Jennifer Rossi Special to The Citizen
Community Action Programs Cayuga/Seneca’s mission is to cultivate a community where all people are respectfully supported and empowered to embrace opportunities for learning, growth and economic security. We serve 7,000 individuals annually in Cayuga and Seneca counties through over 40 programs designed to alleviate hunger and homelessness, help domestic violence victims, prepare individuals for the workforce, provide early childhood development, improve health outcomes, strengthen families and mitigate crisis. Our work is focused on helping lift people out of poverty through comprehensive services that effectively address a wide range of often overlapping challenges posed by social determinants — the conditions of the environment in which people are born, live, work and play that affect a wide range of health and quality of life outcomes and risks.
As we recognize March as National Nutrition Month, an annual campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, we have the opportunity to shed light on the vital relationship that exists between nutritional status and economic security. Malnutrition produces conditions of poverty by reducing the economic potential of vulnerable populations, and poverty reinforces malnutrition by increasing the risk of food in security. It is a complex problem that creates a host of issues including but not limited to lack of affordable housing, social isolation, poor health, high medical costs and low wages. It’s debilitating for children who may not get enough to eat at home and, if not addressed early on, contributes to a generational cycle of poverty.
People are also reading…
Our response to food insecurity and hunger is holistic in its approach but also relies on work done in partnership with our community, other agencies, organizations and our amazing volunteers. It’s an integral part of each program we administer and is driven by CAP’s Food Pantry, Mobile Food Pantry and Food Recovery Program, which are dedicated to transforming the experience for individuals and families in need. We have found innovative ways to expand access to healthy, nutritious foods through collection, distribution and network capacity while providing practical information and simple strategies to fit the communities’ circumstances and cultures.
CAP’s Head Start program, serving over 360 families annually, is one shining example of how incorporating nutrition education and providing a variety of healthy foods is addressing inequity and creating a lifetime of healthy habits. The initiatives not only provide children necessary nutrition to learn, grow and thrive through school meals — and the Backpack Program provides healthy foods to families on the weekends and prior to school breaks — but they also provide interactive tools for the entire family that have a powerful , sustained impact in reducing hunger and food insecurity. The Head Start garden, which has been growing in its scope each year, provides a unique hands-on experience for children to explore their environment with their senses and experiment with intention. Children and their families are involved in planting, watering, weeding, harvesting and processing while actively learning about food production and nutrition. The fresh fruits, vegetable and herbs are utilized in the Head Start kitchen, incorporated into meals and also donated to CAP’s Food Pantry. In 2021, the garden yielded 243 pounds of fresh vegetables and herbs.
Classes, including a nationally based curriculum called Cooking Matters administered by nutrition educator Rebecca Crawford of Cornell Cooperative Extension, have been a huge success with our Head Start parents and individuals enrolled in our transitional housing programs. Participants cook, prepare meals and learn about nutrition, food budgeting and how to grocery shop — tools that enable low-income families to prioritize healthy eating. CAP’s Grow an Extra Row campaign, launching this month, encourages gardeners to plant an extra row or two of produce to donate to our local food pantries. The program has been a blessing over the last few years and there is nothing better than being able to give our neighbors in need wholesome, nutritious and fresh homegrown food.
Integrating healthy eating, nutrition education and wellness into our programs is energizing outcomes and shifting the narrative for low-income families and those living in poverty. Food insecurity touches almost every neighborhood in our community and together we can open the door for everyone, regardless of income, to live an active, healthy life. If you are interested in learning more about the Grow an Extra Row campaign or ways you can make a difference in the fight against hunger, email Chris Ehlers, food security director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (315) 255-1703 ext. 109
Jennifer Rossi is the marketing and development director at Community Action Programs Cayuga/Seneca and can be reached at (315) 255-1703 ext. 155 or email@example.com.