At first, Leatta Byrd thought the email invitation with the White House seal on it from the United States Department of Agriculture was a joke. It took the Michigan State University Extension educator a couple of days and some phone calls to realize that the invitation inviting her to a White House Community round table discussion June 20 at the Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes Emergency Food Pantry in Kalamazoo was authentic.
The discussion featured Kevin Concannon USDA undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services. Mr. Concannon oversees the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and has principal responsibilities and funding authority for Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Alan Shannon, director of the USDA FNS Midwest Regional Public Affairs Office also contributed.
Leatta, supervising SNAP-Ed educator in District 13, joined in the closed 90-minute discussion with about 25 other invitees who work to provide nutritional services to populations in need. Discussion touched on the challenges and successes of reaching people who are underserved, seniors, people recently unemployed and the Hispanic community.
It wasn’t a one-sided conversation. The undersecretary listened to input from attendees on, among other things, how SNAP services could be improved.
Mr. Concannon noted that nationally 63 million people receive SNAP benefits and one-half of those are children.
With public schools not in session during the summer and the economy struggling “child hunger spikes up in the summer time,” said Mr. Shannon.
Leatta said, “Most people know that during the school year, children who attend free-breakfast and reduced-lunch schools can receive a free breakfast and lunch but during the summer, many children go hungry because they may be unaware of the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) feeding programs. That’s why it’s so important that we promote the SFSP summer lunch program so low-income children can have an opportunity to have a nutritious lunch during the summer.”
Through MSU Extension and the SNAP-Ed program, Leatta provides education in several sites, teaching children about healthy snacks and making good food choices this summer. Kalamazoo County has a strong SFSP summer feeding program sponsored by the USDA. It’s given her an opportunity to go out and work with children this summer, providing nutrition education to the children who attend these summer feeding sites.
Leatta says that not only is it important to outreach and market the SNAP-Ed to eligible families, but we also need to promote nutrition to seniors who sometimes have to make the choice between buying their medication or buying food. In addition, newly unemployed or underemployed people often don’t know how to access SNAP benefits. Farmers Market Nutrition Programs (FMNP) such as WIC (Women, Infants and Children) and Senior Project Fresh Programs are another great way of marketing SNAP-Ed programming to underserved audiences.
MSU Extension, the Health and Nutrition Institute and SNAP-Ed are addressing and providing outreach and services to those specific populations that Mr. Concannon spoke about in the round table discussion.