Reaching out in southwest Missouri: Nutrition education for those in need

  • Published: Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Each month University of Missouri Extension’s Family Nutrition Education Program touches the lives of thousands of low-income Missourians. The program provides nutrition education for preschoolers through senior citizens at multiple sites, including schools, community centers, gardens, senior centers and food pantries.

In southwestern Missouri, nutrition educators provide lessons, displays, food tastings, recipes and educational materials at dozens of food pantries and crisis centers. Each venue has its advantages as well as unique challenges.

Some educators work in high-traffic areas with limited space, while others have access to full kitchens or on-site classrooms.

"Participants vary in their ability to read and understand information, which means educators need to adapt how they deliver content," said Myrna Stark, FNEP Program Manager for southwest Missouri. "It’s hard to capture how diverse an audience can be at a food pantry or crisis center. Clients may be highly educated or barely literate, very athletic or almost immobile, relatively healthy or terminally ill."

On any given day, educators might teach, visit or interact with parents, babies, grandparents, teenagers, young adults, college students, children, older adults and more. Some clients may be using wheelchairs, walkers or canes; some might be pulling oxygen tanks; others might need home health aides to pick up their food because they’re not well enough to leave their homes. There may be people with guide dogs, individuals coping with severe mental illness, people who cannot hear, people with dementia or Alzheimer’s, people with autism, and many other conditions.

There will likely be a number of people in transition as well: people who are homeless, fleeing domestic violence, have been injured on the job, have been fired, have relocated due to natural disasters or have lost their homes to fire, among others.

Family Nutrition Program educators work with as many of these clients as they can, and they do this work every month, with professionalism, care and compassion.

"It’s not easy to get a client to consider the importance of calcium or try lentils for the first time, often while working in a cramped, noisy space. But that is exactly what our educators do. It’s kind of incredible when you think about it," said Terri Fossett, nutrition program coordinator for Southwest Missouri.

Possibly because there are so many challenges, it can make the successes even sweeter.

"Every month educators hear clients tell them that success stories. For example, about the recipe they tried last month taht is now something they make at home, or they are rinsing some of the salt off of their canned vegetables, or they now like things such as smoothies, kale or lentils because of what they learned, tasted or received a recipe on," said Fossett.

Clients may also now know how to tell if a product is whole grain, how to defrost food safely and ways to save money on food. It isn’t easy work, but it’s important work, and southwest Missouri is fortunate to have so many hard-working MU Extension nutrition educators.

In an average month, educators in southwestern Missouri provide direct education to almost 700 people and indirect education—displays, food tastings, recipes and other nutrition education materials—to about 5,000 people.

University of Missouri Extension’s Family Nutrition Education Program helps to reduce health care costs by bringing the latest nutrition information to Missourians. Through FNEP, nutrition associates with MU Extension offer nutrition lessons with hands-on activities that are designed for youth and the adults that support them, pregnant teens and immigrant populations.  For more information, contact FNEP regional office in Springfield at (417) 886-2059.

Photos available for this release:
Barb Beck, nutrition program associate in Taney County.
Dana McGuire, nutrition program associate in Texas County.
Sherri Hull, nutrition program associate, Greene County.

Writer: Myrna Stark


Myrna Stark

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