Reaching out with nutrition education

Changes in the administrative structure at Michigan State University Extension came along at about the same time major changes in the economy were taking place around the United States — or maybe as a result of those fiscal failings.

Extension teams were shifted, moved, tightened up, reviewed, made over, and morphed in attempts to make the organization more streamlined  in response to continuing fiscal belt-tightening.

Work that was once carried out in individual counties is now being handled by district teams.

And outreach programs have needed to be adapted to new realities.

But the MSUE mission remains the same, and representative teams are working that much harder to make sure those most in need of services continue to benefit from programs and projects.

Mecosta and Osceola Extension offices have been “absorbed” into a larger district also including the counties of Clare, Gladwin, Isabella, Missaukee and Wexford.

The administrative grouping is called District 6 on the extended MSUE map.

One program that continues within this expanded Extension format, but with a continuing local emphasis is the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education outreach.

SNAP-Ed is formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, and the educational side of this wide-ranging project falls under the control of MSUE around the state.

Locally, SNAP is touching the lives of a growing number of people — driven in large part by continuing economic hardships facing families throughout a district which includes some of the most poverty stricken communities in Michigan.

Nearly one in seven people around the nation receive some form of food assistance from the government.

In many of the District 6 counties that number is closer to 1-in-5, and in at least one county in District 6, (Isabella), the number of people participating in some form of food supplement assistance program reaches 1-in-4.

Shannon Lindquist, formerly the health and nutrition educator for Osceola and Mecosta counties, now watches over the District 6 program, and is proud of the work her team are doing to improve the quality of life for those needing a little hand up - not just a hand out.

“We are being kept quite busy with the SNAP-Ed program, but we still are not reaching everyone we should,” said Lindquist.

“We have a case load “expectation” as determined by the USDA. We are not yet addressing the needs of that number of people.

“This is a problem.

“We know there is a need, but the people this program is aimed at don’t fully know what is available to them.”

Lindquist noted she and her team are working closely with the Department of Human Services to better inform members of the SNAP-Ed ‘target’ group that there is help and assistance when needed.

“We depend a lot on the families with whom we are working spreading the word,” continued Lindquist. “Word-of-mouth is a powerful advertising tool.”

The programs offered through SNAP-Ed are age appropriate. These programs can range from actual food supplement distribution, to young child nutrition education, cooking classes, elder nutrition discussions, seminars on effective food purchasing plans, classes on household nutrition and finance management, and much more.

“We go into pre-schools and elementary school to offer kids nutritional information they can understand and in a why they will enjoy and remember,” noted Lindquist.

“We have a new curriculum called “Show Me Nutrition” that reaches kids from pre-school through eighth grade that gets a lot of important information out to young people at a formative stage in their lives.

“Through SNAP-Ed, we can program with any age group.”

MSUE also hosts continuing classes for adults in cooking and managing nutritional needs.

“About 20 percent of the people we reach are in one-time programs,” Lindquist pointed out. “We get a lot of information out that way. We also have programs that involve multiple classes or return visits.

“The important thing is to get information on not only eating well, but also in dealing most efficiently with he resources available — both financial and nutritional.

“There is a lot of need out there. People are going through some tough times.

“They sometimes need to rethink how they handle the basics — buying and making the most effective use of foodstuffs.”

Lindquist feels that despite the changes in the local MSUE administrative structure, her team will be able to meet goals set and, more important, create a sustainable outreach.

“At the end of the day, we are here to help people,” she said. “Folks need to understand that they don’t need to be referred to us by any agency. If they meet the criteria, we have something that can help them create a better nutritional program in the home.

“We would like to see more elder residents from our area contacting us and taking advantage of what we have to offer.

“We have ideas, projects, and programs that can help people better live within the budget they have, and for older folks that can be very, very important.”

Anyone with questions on SNAP-Ed program offerings can contact  Lindquist or members of the team, (Effie Jack in Mecosta County and Renee Bisel in Osceola County), at 592-0792 in Big Rapids, or 832-6139 in Reed City.