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Change CAN Happen

By Amanda Corbett, Research Fellow

Change can happen and relationships do matter. Those were two key messages I took away from the keynote presentation at the first annual Jean W. Bauer Community Dialogue: "Addressing Financial Capability Needs of Diverse Audiences Through Community-Extension Partnerships," which honored the late Dr. Bauer's legacy and kicked off the Jean W. Bauer Fund in Family Financial Management.  About 60 FD faculty, educators, staff, and community members, as well as our guests from Korea, attended the event, held January 27 at the St. Paul Student Center.

I found the keynote presentation delightful and inspiring. Kim Greder, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Family Life Specialist, Extension and Outreach at Iowa State University, and her community partner, the Rev. Sarai Schnucker Rice, Executive Director, Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC), shared their story of joining forces to change the approach and operation of the food pantry network operated by DMARC — which now includes 12 food pantries in the Greater Des Moines area.

This partnership has a rich history dating back to the late 1990s. The piece of history highlighted in this presentation started in the mid-2000s when bio-medical screenings were provided on site at the food pantries to gauge the health of clients. Iowa State Extension staff aggregated the findings from these screenings and presented them to food pantry leadership.

After hearing the health indicator data, Rev. Rice remembers being floored by three particular findings about food pantry clients, delivered during a “By the way…” moment:
  • They had had significantly higher rates of diabetes than the general population.
  • They had three times the rate of high blood pressure
  • They had twice the rate of general health problems.
Clearly, the food pantries were not doing the clients any favors by the quality of food they were providing. Rev. Rice took this information back to the food pantry board and members agreed they were uncomfortable contributing to the poor health of the communities they were purportedly serving. The “By the way…” moment turned into a mission to completely overhaul the type of food they distributed.

Change did not happen overnight. And it wasn’t easy. It required renovation of pantry space, addition of refrigeration, and an educational component for both staff and clients. As they continually identified clients' needs, the board ordered a series of adaptations to the food pantry network.
  • Instead of offering processed foods high in preservatives and low in nutrients, the network's menu of options now includes whole grains, high-protein solids, and a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Pantry sites are staffed by people of different ethnic groups in the community and provide food and training relevant to the groups being served.
  • An informal, mutual referral relationship exists with community clinics where food pantry clients can receive additional care if necessary, and where clinic clients are referred to a food pantry, if necessary.
As a result of the board’s efforts, the DMARC network of food pantries is now full-service and culturally sensitive, a forward-thinking leader in the healthy food access movement.
From the Move the Food website.

An unstated point of the presentation was the relationship between Dr. Greder and Rev. Rice. The importance of respectful, trusting, sincere relationships with community agencies cannot be overemphasized. When she initially set out to do this research, Dr. Greder contacted the Extension Specialist working in Des Moines to identify what contacts existed. A relationship already existed between Extension and DMARC, and Dr. Greder was able to move her work forward more rapidly and efficiently because that foundation of trust had already been established.

While a number of points hit home with this presentation for me, I will highlight two here:
  • Change CAN happen. It takes heart. It takes vision. It takes perseverance. It takes time. It takes a team. But it CAN happen.
  • Relationships matter. To make the change we are working toward, it is critical to spend time developing and nurturing relationships with community partners.
Each of the presenters clearly demonstrated respect and appreciation for the other’s work and expertise. They were both humble in acknowledging their role in the program and did not attempt to speak for each other. For me, their presentation underscored the importance of recognizing our responsibility in FD to bring humility and respect to our relationships with community partners. These qualities are imperative for authentic relationships to take root, and an authentic relationship is key to bringing our own, and our colleagues' work, to fruition.

[Editor's note: Dr. Greder's presentation is available on the Family Development Intranet.]

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