By: Zoe Rosner
What does a dietitian do? Most immediately think of in-patient or out-patient clinical dietetic counseling, but not all registered dietitians work in hospitals and provide medical nutrition therapy. The University of Maryland College Park allows for interns to rotate with a variety of organizations and dietitians in the three major areas of dietetics: clinical, food service and community. Within the realm of community nutrition, a dietitian may work for the education system, nutrition assistance programs, food banks or grocery stores. My first community nutrition rotation was spent at Manna Food Center in Montgomery County, Maryland and the variety of activities I completed provided a well rounded experience.
Successful community nutrition program planning begins with a needs assessment. This process identifies the people in need and the types of help that will benefit them. Manna creates a variety of programming, most often involving distribution of shelf stable and fresh food for individuals and families residing in Montgomery County.
The following programs are already underway at Manna:
- Food for Families- Distribution of shelf stable items in addition to fresh produce and sometimes meat.
- Smart Sacks- Many students received free or reduced meals at school during the week. The program bridges the gap between Friday and Monday and provides food for over the weekend.
- Community Food Education- Accessible health education including cooking classes, wellness presentations, and chats with a nutrition expert.
- Breaking Bread- A program with the intent to “create space and intentional conversations to nurture dialogue around critical issues, such as race, class, and a culture of dependency, that create or contribute to hunger and food insecurity in our community.”
To provide the most benefit to those in greatest need, Manna analyzes data. This data helps them determine where food pick up locations should be or which schools should be eligible for smart sacks. While at Manna, I was able to compile data to determine which zip codes within Montgomery County are currently facing the largest barriers to food security. The datasets I looked into included the capital area food bank hunger heatmap (shown below), rates of free and reduced lunches amongst elementary, middle and high schools, covid incidence and mortality and lastly the number of individuals Manna is currently serving in the zip code. This data creates support for decisions of which areas to serve.
Once programs are created, promotion of the programs is essential. Program promotion to participants of Manna and the community is a major step in increasing participation. Promotion to community members, such as medical providers or those in churches/temples/mosques, who can spread the word to those in need is very useful.
Manna allows for providers to refer patients to ensure those in need receive services from Manna. Oftentimes an individual in need may not register for services on their own accord, but with the referral from a provider, they will pursue the programming. Educating providers on how to appropriately refer patients is useful in decreasing food insecurity amongst the patients. My partner, Erica, and I created a brief “How To” video for the providers. The video makes sure patients are being referred correctly and are prepared to receive services. Of note, the University of Maryland College Park dietetic internship has a relationship with an interprofessional education (IPE) clinic that serves patients in Montgomery County. Because the clinic serves many patients experiencing food insecurity, the video was useful to distribute to the IPE team. Creating content that benefits two rotation sites and works to solve a common issue was useful in understanding how community and clinical dietetics are intertwined.
My favorite aspect of the Manna rotation was working through the steps of community nutrition program planning. Learning about the programs currently in place and their goals, locating data for the programs and promoting the programs allowed me to feel confident in my knowledge of community nutrition. I believe having well rounded experiences within each major domain of dietetics is a key aspect of the dietetic internship. Even though I hope to pursue clinical dietetics upon graduation, I now understand how as a provider I can connect patients with community nutrition services.