By: Kerri Schumacher
“Clank.” “Beep.” “Whoosh.” As I looked over my schedule on Monday, August 31, 2020, these are some of the sounds I expected to hear that first day walking into the Maryland Food Bank. I thought my rotation was going to be full of food cans clanking, trucks backing up into the loading docks, and the whooshing sound of sorting, packing, and distribution machines. Little did I know, the only sounds I would encounter would be the traffic outside my window and my fingers typing on my keyboard. As we continue to get through this pandemic, I have had to be very quick-witted, creative, technologically advanced, and able to adjust to many changes. Cultivating these skills has already helped me get the most out of the physically distant rotations of my dietetic internship.
The Maryland Food Bank is a nonprofit organization providing food to those in need all over the state of Maryland. I worked specifically with the Maryland Food Bank in Baltimore, MD. During my time at this rotation, I gained exposure to the magnitude of the food bank’s outreach. It has completely changed my perspective and I am excited that it continues to grow. Before this rotation, I hadn’t thought about where food banks get the food they distribute, and how their sources impact their services. I learned that who they partner with impacts what food is brought into the food bank. The cycle of production and distribution of food is way beyond my original expectation.
I also learned about how they categorize and stock the food in the warehouse. They organize through a system called SWAP which stands for Supporting Wellness at Pantries. It separates the food into three categories based on set nutritional criteria. These categories include:
- Green, for foods you should eat a lot of,
- Yellow, for foods you should only have sometimes, and
- Red, for foods that you should try to avoid.
This ranking system has provided nutrition education and convenience to customers who come into the food bank to receive groceries. This struck me as very simple, but these categories make an enormous difference. An activity that I did when I first began was to gather three different household grocery items and figure out what categories they belonged to. I was suddenly in the position of the consumer. I was surprised that my assumptions about the foods I picked were wrong. The nutritional content of food can be deceiving and I was shown how much of a challenge it could be for someone trying to buy healthy food.
However, my main duties of this rotation were focused on nutrition education. The food bank primarily delivered education activities and materials right in their backyard, at the Maryland Food Bank garden. Because of the impacts of COVID-19, in-person activities and learning opportunities for children were no longer an option. My preceptor introduced the idea of creating virtual workshops and online videos for elementary-age kids and parents to access; I knew I was up for the challenge. Throughout the 3-week rotation, my partner, Jennifer, and I created six virtual workshop scripts for the food bank to translate into videos. The six workshops each had a specific theme, forming a bridge between the food bank’s garden and nutrition education. The topics consisted of:
- Veggie Superheroes
- Fruit and Vegetable Categories
- My Plate
- Liquids/Added Sugars
I had so much fun creating these scripts because it was a chance to explore another side of myself… one that was daring and brave. I strived to become relatable to kids, using kid-friendly language while also effectively conveying essential information as a nutrition educator. Although none of this work was created onsite, l believe I received the best beginning to this program that I could have ever asked for. With this being said, I did face challenges and had to critically think through potential problems to complete the final product before the deadline. Honestly, it was rigorous at times, especially when I experienced the true meaning of “writer’s block.” Scriptwriting was completely new to me and I learned so much by working on this project. I appreciate that my preceptor gave me the freedom to be inventive. In closing, I cannot wait to see everything that was once just ideas in my head translated into actual videos that the food bank can use to engage and educate children.
Perhaps the most important thing I learned during this rotation is the importance of keeping an open mind. Initially, I worried that I wouldn’t learn much from a virtual rotation, but that fear was unfounded. The need of the Maryland Food Bank to find ways to connect virtually to its clients provided me the opportunity to work on new and exciting projects. The virtual world does not have to be negative; it seems as if it is going to continue to be our “new normal.” I already realize how wrong I was to have this premade notion fabricated in my mind. I am very enthusiastic to tackle future tasks and projects, whether they be virtual or in person. I’m ready, and I’m set…Let’s go!