Surprises of (Maryland) Food Banks

By Anamarie Bergman

Prior to starting my first rotation at the Maryland Food Bank, I was not sure what to expect! Although this rotation was virtual, I did have the chance to tour the food bank. Upon arriving, I was shocked by the size of it — it is huge! I was also taken by surprise when I learned all of what the food bank has to offer. Not only do they distribute food to over 1,500 food pantries in Maryland, but they also have a community garden, offer professional culinary jobs skills training (FoodWorks), and have nine other programs that provide food for children, adults, and seniors.

In addition to learning about the programs the food bank offers, I learned about SWAP. SWAP stands for Supporting Wellness at Pantries and is a stoplight nutrition ranking system designed to help promote healthy food choices by categorizing food offered at the pantries.  I never heard of SWAP before and was very impressed to see a lot of food banks and pantries implementing this in their facilities! The foods are ranked by saturated fat, sodium, and sugar content which correlates with the color the item receives. For example, red quinoa is ranked green and would be placed on the green shelf at the food pantries, which they try to keep at eye level. Corn muffin mix, however, would be ranked red, since it is high in sodium, and placed on the red shelf of the food pantry, usually at the bottom of the shelving unit. I believe SWAP is an extremely helpful tool for food banks because of how it helps influence people to make healthier food choices. It made me wonder if this is something grocery stores dietitians could advocate to implement as well! Food items are ranked electronically via Navision, which also is their system for tracking food inventory at the warehouse. Ranking items in Navision is something I helped with during my time at MFB!

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During this rotation, I worked extensively on creating infographics. These easy-to-understand visual representations of information and data typically have minimal text and can simplify complex topics. My main focus was creating diabetes nutrition education infographics to help people in the community. Food banks and pantries create boxes containing food items appropriate for particular diseases or populations, including diabetes. The infographics I created are placed into the boxes to provide education to go with the food they are receiving. I really enjoyed this aspect of the rotation as it allowed me to use my creative side and provide nutrition education — it was a lot of fun! An example of one of the infographics I created for the diabetes population is below. It educates clients with diabetes on the difference between non-starchy and starchy vegetables and provides specific examples of each. I even created a graphic representation of what a client’s plate could look like at each meal. I loved how this infographic turned out and it’s super exciting to know it will be used in diabetes boxes!

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My time at Maryland Food Bank has been very informative. I could definitely see myself working at a food bank in the future because I liked using innovative and creative approaches to educate and inform the community. I was able to tie in a lot of different aspects of the field of nutrition and that’s something that’s important to me as a future registered dietitian!

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