Exploring Nutrition: The Building Blocks

“We are what we eat. We eat junk, we’re going to wind up being junk.”

Two weeks after the Easter food drive at Hosley Temple CME Church, Rev. Alfred Jones Jr. explained his desire to supply for the various needs in the Germantown area of Philadelphia.

“I won’t be here forever, but the people … will still be here,” the reverend said.

According a new grass roots movement, Exploring Nutrition, one of those needs is better nutrition. La Salle University is partnering with Hosley Temple and several other churches and schools to improve eating habits in the Germantown / Olney area.

Tom Wingert, a founding member of the movement, described Exploring Nutrition’s goals as three-fold. He explained the project will educate students via service learning, increase awareness via community outreach, and execute change via needs assessment and food drives. Wingert referred to Olney as a former “food desert“, where there is little or no healthy food available to the general public. Yet, he claimed the addition of a Fresh Grocer in 2009 gave people in the neighborhood access to healthy food.

But Wingert went on to say that “access to [healthy] food is not enough”. Earlier this year, sixty-five professors met with twenty pastors, including Reverend Jones, to discuss the issue. It was decided that more could be done to improve the nutrition in their area of the city, and groundwork was laid for Exploring Nutrition.

How to Explore Nutrition

Rev. Jones’ Easter food drive was a small, but important part of a much larger project. His ideas, however, reflect much of the spirit behind the movement started by La Salle staff.

“The challenge … how can we help? [How can we] use the technology, use the education to give back to community?”

La Salle staff took it upon themselves to integrate Exploring Nutrition into several disciplines within the college. Digital Art & Multimedia Design students are constructing the visual element of the initiative. It was their idea to change the name of the movement from the Neighborhood Health and Nutrition Project to “Exploring Nutrition”, which harkens to the school’s mascot: The Explorer. Alongside marketing students, these designers are giving Exploring Nutrition a face and a name worthy of getting behind.

The Neighborhood Health and Nutrition Project is now Exploring Nutrition.

The Neighborhood Health and Nutrition Project is now Exploring Nutrition.

Those in public relations are also learning what goes into a grass roots movement. Leadership and Global Understanding minors are part of developing the infrastructure of the project, which includes an Academic Enrichment Program, and community needs assessments. Students are getting hands on experience while supporting the drive for better food for their neighbors. The psychology, economics, and communications departments are also involved in a second tier of research. While social work majors are getting close to the issue of nutrition, large scale data is being reviewed by classes such as Online Journalism. While not involved in the project itself, these students blog objectively about Exploring Nutrition’s development, just as psychology and economy majors review the raw data.

Building Better Nutrition

Explore Nutrition does not officially begins until next fall. However, partnerships are being built now which will make up the project once it begins. Since Fresh Grocer was a key part of preventing Olney from staying a food dessert, La Salle staff saw it as a key part of promoting good nutrition habits.

Rev. Jones expressed his appreciation for Fresh Grocer’s contribution to the church’s Easter Food Drive. He stressed the church was doing nothing abnormal, as there is food available every Tuesday of the week, yet he was grateful that Fresh Grocer provided nutritious products in addition to the meal, clothing, and other regular provisions.

Part of the research effort is to discover what it is the corner stores have for the neighborhood, and how Exploring Nutrition can expand any existing effort to make healthy food available. Tom Wingert also explained that, although Fresh Grocer is a business like any other, it is “in now way competing with” food cupboards like nearby Weaver’s Way. Rather, it is the goal of Exploring Nutrition to build partnerships to promote healthy eating throughout the Neighborhood.

Having been a minister over 17 years, Rev. Alfred Jones Jr. understands the challenges of meeting people’s needs. “I don’t want to say ‘I need this, I need that’. I’m saying: ‘Come look.'” Along with other Exploring Nutrition members, he invites anyone interested to see the nutrition problems in Olney and Germantown, and think about what they can do to help.