Healthy Food Initiative: Two Years and Still Strong

Allison Righter

Allison Righter, MSPH, RD is the Program Officer, Eating for the Future with the Center for a Livable Future.

When Ed McNally took on the position as Executive Director of the Franciscan Center in 2010 and reached out to us at the Center for a Livable Future (CLF) for help improving the quality of food  served  to  their  clients,  I  was  a  research  assistant  with  CLF’s  Baltimore  Food  &  Faith Project  and  just  starting  my  Master’s  degree.  Hearing  Ed  speak  so  passionately  about  the importance  of  serving  fresh,  nutritious  foods  to  a  population  at  highest  risk  for  diet-related chronic  diseases  not  only  struck a chord with me  personally as a  soon-to-be  dietitian,  but also deeply  aligned with the mission  and  values  of CLF.  It was  a  natural  partnership,  and  one that would  only  continue  to  blossom  and  strengthen  over  the  next  two  years,  even  despite  many challenges along the way.

The first step in this journey began by connecting the Franciscan Center with a regular source of  fresh,  local  produce  to  use  in  their  meals  in  place  of  many  canned  and  processed  food products.  And it just  so  happened that,  simultaneously, the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project at JHSPH was looking for a place to donate all the unclaimed produce at the end of  each  week’s  pick-up  shift.  Thanks  to  this  perfect  timing,  the  Center  immediately  began receiving dozens of crates of Maryland-grown kale, collards, tomatoes, squash, peppers, and the like,  every  Tuesday  evening  throughout  the  growing  season.  Other  connections  made  with gleaning programs, such as the Campus Kitchens Project at Johns Hopkins University and First Fruit Farms, also resulted in a sudden increase of fresh, locally grown produce.

Being inundated with all this produce might have been exciting  for many trained chefs and food enthusiasts, but for the Franciscan Center’s cooks, who had little experience working with fresh produce, it was very intimidating.  Instead of giving up, the Center brought in local chefs to visit  regularly  and  help  train  the  cooks  on  how  to  prepare  produce  they  may  not  have  used before. And to help with the time-consuming processing of all the vegetables, a volunteer shift of enthusiastic  “Veggie  Choppers” was  started  on  Tuesday  evenings.  I  became  one  of  the  early pioneers  of  this  chopping  shift  because  of  my  own  love  of  food  and  cooking,  and  I  proudly continue  to  volunteer  every  Tuesday  at  the  Center  with  a  core  group  of  equally  enthusiastic “foodies” and self-proclaimed professional veggie choppers.

In  an  effort to  highlight these  new,  healthier  foods  and to  encourage  healthy  food  choices among clients, the Franciscan Center launched its own Healthy Monday program in partnership with  CLF,  starting  with  the  introduction  of  Meatless  Monday.  During  the  kick-off  event  two years ago, celebrity chef and author of The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook, Kim O’Donnel, helped the cooks serve up a delicious and nutritious vegetarian option to more than 500 clients, and  she  also  taught  the  cooks  a  few  extra  tips  and  tricks  for  how  to  prepare  other  popular meatless  dishes.  The  Center  has  been  able  to  continue  offering  a  nutritious,  meat-free  option every Monday with considerable  success, while also  striving to improve the  overall  nutritional quality of all meals served everyday.

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