Food for Thought
Nurses are known for providing compassion and care in a variety of health care settings. Their areas of expertise seemingly know no bounds … from pediatrics and anesthesia to gerontology and psychiatric/mental health; therefore, it should come as no surprise when nurses become devoted to community activism, including helping those who might not always have enough food to eat.
RN-BSN Preceptor Rhonda Ramler and two recent University of Iowa RN-BSN graduates—Hillary Gant and Cori Foley—recently helped develop, open, and evaluate a food pantry for families in Dubuque, Iowa. Located in Dubuque’s Lincoln Elementary School, the pantry provides assistance for those who are experiencing food insecurity.
“Pat Nelson (CON lecturer) contacts me each semester to ask if I can work with some of her RN to BSN students from the Dubuque area. I usually have community health projects that I’m working on and these students become a valuable resource for me to assist with implementing the projects. In turn, they get firsthand experience in community health nursing,” explained Ramler, MSN, ARNP, Health Services Coordinator at Lincoln Elementary School Nurse in the Dubuque Community School District. “Hillary and Cori jumped right in and did some research on the food insecurity of many of our students. They worked with the food bank director to help organize the pantry, and then they rolled up their sleeves and helped families fill their bags during food distribution. The two also created surveys to help determine how we can better meet the needs of our school’s families when they utilize the pantry.”
Having previously worked with a local food bank, Ramler was an ideal candidate to help get the new pantry up and running. She applied for and was awarded a grant from the Iowa Department of Public Health’s Healthiest State Initiative 5-2-1-0 Program. The grant provided vital startup funding to purchase essential items such as refrigeration units, shelving, and enough food for the pantry for the rest of the school year.
“We held our inaugural food pantry in February during conferences at the school and have held monthly after-school pantries ever since,” said Gant, a registered nurse from Blanchardville, Wisconsin, who graduated from UI’s RN-BSN program in May 2018. “The feedback has been wonderful. Our last event, aided by warm weather, was our busiest yet … we could hardly keep up.”
To determine the best way to meet the needs of the families they served, and to improve the efficiency and efficacy of the pantry, the graduates collected and analyzed data from pantry event attendees. The analysis of this data revealed variables such as the most frequent time of day food was picked up and what types of food or items families needed most.
“This experience opened my eyes to the needs of those in our community, especially our most vulnerable youth. In our research, Hilary and I were able to truly see the great need of the families in this title one school,” said Foley. “A section of Lincoln School is located in a food desert, which is an area of low access to food coupled with low income. Many of these children rely on school as their stable food source. Food insecurity is a prevalent issue facing these children,” she further explained.
Foley and Gant also helped guide the pantry’s marketing and branding efforts. They created fliers to get the word out to children and their families. They also placed posters throughout the school, disseminated emails to parents, and sent information home with the students.
The pantry will continue to operate throughout the school year and there is also the potential for some summer dates. Even though they both graduated, Foley and Gant plan to remain involved with the pantry, continuing their efforts to enrich the lives of the youth in the community they serve.
“Cori and I presented this project to the Dubuque Community School Board with the hopes of expanding pantries to other schools in the area. We have a lot of data supporting the need and benefit of offering pantries in schools, and we hope the board will find our passion for this project contagious,” said Gant.
In addition to continued support from dedicated and compassionate staff like Foley and Gant, the pantry’s financial backing also seems to have stabilized. Ramler noted that although funds from the 5-2-1-0 grant have been exhausted, the pantry’s success has opened up some external funding sources.
“We now have a local business that is going to fund this project indefinitely,” she explained. “We will continue to have monthly food pantries at our school next year and beyond. We also plan to explore implementing food pantries in some of the other schools in our lower socioeconomic districts.”
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