Food help and community service go hand in hand

Food help and community service go hand in hand

Joanne Widner

Look closely at any successful operation, and you’re likely to find people who are energetic, creative, and enthusiastic about what they do. That’s certainly true of the people who run two successful Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) sites in Des Moines, Iowa, and Denver, Colorado.

The two operations have much in common. Both use a supermarket set-up to provide efficient, streamlined service to CSFP participants. Both give participants nutrition information and recipes along with supplemental foods. And both make special efforts to coordinate with volunteers, community organizations, and other social service agencies.

The Commodity Supplemental Food Program is one of several food assistance programs USDA administers in cooperation with state and local agencies. CSFP provides USDA commodities to low-income mothers, infants, and young children (age 6 and younger), and to low-income elderly people (age 60 and older). CSFP participants receive a variety of USDA foods, depending on their age and nutritional needs.

The Des Moines and Denver programs are two of 47 local CSFP sites currently operating around the country.

Supermarket set-up

is fast and convenient

The Des Moines CSFP facility opened in October 1989 in a former supermarket. It’s across the street from a food stamp office and senior center that also houses a “well-elderly” clinic. According to Virginia Petersen of the Polk County (Iowa) Department of Human Services, “It’s a great location.”

When clients enter the store, a computer terminal speeds certification, cross-checks for dual participation with WIC (another and much larger USDA program serving mothers, infants, and children), and then creates a shopping list.

Armed with that list, clients wheel shopping carts past bins of commodity foods, making selections from various food groups in quantities computer-matched to family ages and numbers. They don’t have to accept anything they can’t use without waste.

Check-out is also computerized, thanks to the use of electronic scanning equipment in check-out lanes. The scanners, which the Denver facility also hopes to add eventually, “read” the bar codes on packages and cans of USDA commodity foods. In addition to making check-out faster and easier for participants, the electronic scanning equipment helps CSFP managers keep better track of inventory and distribution.

These are other

special features

Des Moines’ CSFP supermarket is also equipped to make it easier for participants to get their packages home. A conveyor belt transfers participants’ packages from the check-out counter to a pick-up point where they can easily be loaded into cars. For elderly people who cannot come to the distribution center, there is home delivery.

In addition to this streamlined delivery system, Des Moines’ CSFP facility has several other special features. For example, there are television monitors that play educational tapes, and a playroom so mothers can shop in peace while their children are happily occupied.

There’s also a well-baby clinic on the premises that offers immunizations, lead-poisoning screening, and iron-level blood tests to CSFP mothers and children.

Of interest to both mothers and elderly participants is the demonstration kitchen operated by home economists from USDA’s Extension Service. The home economists show participants how to prepare tasty dishes, using commodity foods that are sometimes unfamiliar to them.

During a recent demonstration, Extension staffers made dollar-size pancakes from commodity egg mix and evaporated milk; they also mixed batter for carrot muffins using commodity nonfat dry milk, egg mix, honey, and canned carrots.

Food and education

go hand in hand

Food and education also go hand in hand at Denver’s CSFP facility. As in Des Moines, the program uses a supermarket set-up that makes it simple for participating mothers and elderly people to select supplemental foods. There are also many special features, such as home delivery for the elderly and babysitting for children whose mothers are shopping for CSFP foods.

Food preparation and demonstration classes are offered 3 days a week by teachers from the Emily Griffith Opportunity School–a vocational school that’s part of the Denver public school system–and recipes are always available.

Making sure participants get and know how to use their CSFP foods is the greatest concern of Denver CSFP administrator Tony Quintana and his staff. However, they don’t stop there. Working closely with other groups, they’ve made the CSFP facility a center for a variety of community-supported activities. For example, on a monthly basis, the facility becomes a distribution site for Colorado SHARE, a local affiliate of an innovative private nonprofit program currently operating in 18 locations around the country.

SHARE gives interested families and individuals opportunities to save on food costs by contributing time to volunteer efforts in their communities. In exchange for 2 hours’ community service and #13 in cash or food stamps, participants earn one “share” which is equivalent to one food package. (SHARE has received authorization from USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service to accept food stamps.)

If they wish, participants can buy more than one “share” on this same basis. They can donate their time to any verified volunteer effort–such as Boy and Girl Scouts, churches or synagogues, libraries, schools, senior centers, hospitals, or even SHARE’s food warehouse itself.

“Food for Thought”

gets books to kids

Another laudable offshoot of the Denver CSFP operation is “Food for Thought,” a program designed to help children learn to enjoy books and get a head start on developing reading skills.

Drawing on community help, volunteers converted a small room into a children’s book center. It looks like a library, with colorful shelves stocked with books for 1- to 6-year-olds. The big difference is that instead of lending books, this library gives them to children.

Once every 3 months, CSFP participants can stop by the library and help their children select books. Each child can get one book per visit. There’s no restriction on reading level, and older children sometimes select books to read to their younger siblings.

“Food for Thought” depends on grants and donations for support. Capitol Hill Books, a local bookstore, helped the department of social services set up an initial assortment of books, furnishing them at a considerable discount and showing CSFP staff how to make any needed repairs. Now that insurance requirements have been met, a volunteer coordinator, Marilyn Weiss, helps out on a part-time basis.

Keeping shelves stocked is an on-going effort, aided by the support of many local sponsors, including the “Rocky Mountain News,” television Channel 4, and IBM, which underwrote a grant.

Together with other local sponsors, such as King Soopers supermarkets and radio station KHOW, they have managed to incorporate special book drives into several Denver events. For example, under KHOW sponsorship, the Big Fun amusement center collected 400 books over the Easter holiday a year ago by offering a $5.95 admission to anyone donating a new or used book.

Through another book drive–“A Book and a Buck for Baseball”–Denver Zephyrs baseball fans could get$6.00 game tickets for just $1.00 and a donated book.

In addition, a “Food for Thought” table was given space at the gala opening of Denver’s new convention center last June, and Elitch Gardens amusement park offered free gate admission over the Labor Day weekend in exchange for books for kids under age 6.

Even the Denver Zoo helped out with a special offer at Halloween called “A Book and a Boo and the Zoo.” Patrons donating books got free admission for the day.

Additional support came from Grayland Country Day School, which sponsored a fall book drive, and from local public libraries, where colorful book barrels were placed to receive donated books. The barrels were hard to miss, thanks to the work of a local graphic artist and a print shop who donated their time and talent to produce colorful Day-Glo pink wraps for them.

With a little help

from their friends

Along with his predecessor Betty Donovan, who began the project, Tony Quintana and his staff have given time and thought to making “Food for Thought” a success. Like the CSFP team in Des Moines, their concern for their clients has translated into some creative approaches to coordinating services.

With a little help from their friends, CSFP staff in both Des Moines and Denver are putting forth a super effort to help those they serve.

For further information, contact: Virginia Petersen Polk County Department of Human Services 1907 Carpenter Street Des Moines, Iowa 50314 Telephone: (525) 286-3434

Tony Quintana Denver County Department of Social Services 2650 West 3rd Avenue Denver, Colorado 80219 Telephone: (303) 727-2716

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