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Ohio State medical dietetics students put education into solutions, work to help Columbus homeless community

Inprem Holistic Community Resource Center is located at 5757 Karl Road. Credit: Courtesy of Sam Snashall

Medical dietetics students morphed what they learned from their curriculum into real-world solutions for food insecurity in the program’s year-end presentations.

The Medical Dietetics 4500: Health Promotion and Community Nutrition proposals included plans to educate people on nutrition, expand the use of fresh produce in diets and improve transportation to food pantries.

“We worked with the problems that the community partners identified,”  said Ingrid Adams, an associate professor of medical dietetics. “We actually worked with an area that they determined was a specific need in their particular organization.”

Adams decided to take a service-learning approach to the course this semester by partnering students with community members.

“I provided students with the opportunity to use that nutrition knowledge as it relates to community nutrition, but I also provided opportunities for them to think critically, and to solve problems, and real-world problems,” Adams said.

One group worked alongside the Inprem Holistic Community Resource Center in Columbus to solve a peculiar issue; certain produce items, such as pumpkins, grapefruits and zucchinis, were going to waste in central Ohio. This was because those who visited the pantry came from a variety of international backgrounds, and those cultural differences had a huge impact on dietary choices.

“It was ultimately just going to waste, or people weren’t able to get the full benefits from the food pantry because they weren’t taking it all,” said Tess Harnett, a second-year in medical dietetics and a member of the group.

The group visited the pantry to get an idea for how it runs, handed out surveys and did research to figure out an effective way to stop these produce items from going to waste.

They came up with recipe booklets that were handed out with certain wasted produce items. The recipe booklets had translations in a variety of languages to accommodate those who were not fluent in English.

“We actually ran into someone who spoke Nepali and English and she was able to translate a couple of recipes for us and that worked a lot better than an online translator because it’s very different,” Harnett said.

Students created recipe booklets to provide information on health benefits of ingredients such as pumpkin, grapefruit, eggplant and zucchini. Credit: courtesy of Sam Snashall

Another group worked alongside South Side Roots, a cafe, market and kitchen in Columbus to help bring more homeless people into the cafe to use free meal offerings and benefit from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program at the market.

“We did a lot of research on the homeless population in general and the statistics of that area around South Side Roots,” said Mara McCann, a second-year in medical dietetics.

The group decided to reinstate a card program the pantry started in their cafe and market in 2017 in which homeless people who came in would receive a card that allowed them to get a free meal every day.

Since that time, South Side Roots hadn’t re-enrolled anybody, and the cafe lost business.

The students hope the reinstatement of the card program will lead to a healthier Columbus population and that it will inspire other communities to implement similar businesses and programs.

“Each student and each group was able to touch lives, and I always look at that at as a two-way street. Not only were they able to touch lives, their lives were touched,” Adams said.

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