A Dietitian’s Role at a Food Bank

By Danny Turner

Before starting this internship program, I didn’t have a good idea of what it might look like to work in community nutrition as a dietitian. Classes covered benefits programs like WIC and SNAP, but I had never shadowed a community-focused dietitian. Thankfully I was able to rotate with Manna Food Center in Montgomery County, Maryland for two weeks. This experience taught me a lot both about what a dietitian can do in community nutrition, and about the challenges that food banks and non-profits face.

Manna provides food, education and advocacy in order to work towards its goal: completely eliminate hunger in Montgomery County. Through several programs and partnerships, Manna provides over 42,000 food packages each year. The food bank also provides nutrition education classes, combats food waste through food recovery programs, and lends its voice to advocate for legislature and policy changes that would benefit the community.

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The small but dedicated staff of Manna food center

On my first day at the food bank, I helped volunteer groups assemble boxes of fresh produce, canned foods, meat, and other food items. Later that day, participants in the program came to the food bank, and I helped bring the boxes of food to their cars. Many of the recipients thanked me repeatedly while I did my best to pass the credit on to Manna. It felt incredible to be a part of such a generous and altruistic operation.

Jenna Umbriac is currently Manna’s sole dietitian, and was kind enough to act as my preceptor. She oversees Manna’s many different programs, and while her role is not that of a traditional dietitian, she always tries to incorporate healthy eating into the work she does. While Manna strives to end hunger, they also want to empower those in need to eat well. One way that Manna emphasizes good nutrition is through donor and participant education.

Manny Front

The latest addition to the Manna family, Manny is gearing up to act as a mobile cooking demo kitchen and pop-up pantry, allowing Manna to reach out to previously isolated and under-served areas of the community

While I was with the food bank, I got to help develop educational materials for Manna’s nutrition education classes. I reviewed existing class content for accuracy and appropriateness, and designed posters that could be used in place of PowerPoint slides for class sessions that could not provide a computer or projector. I also helped Jenna and her staff begin to revamp their class evaluation procedures. My contribution to this was to develop new surveys for their classes that would help demonstrate their ability to influence behavior change. Manna’s status as a non-profit means that it is important to gather data showing the reach and efficacy of their programs to funders.

I found my experience at Manna both educational and inspirational. Everyone who works there does so because they believe in the mission. I can now say that I have a better understanding a dietitian’s role in community nutrition, and I can absolutely see the appeal of working in it.

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