See the original post on the No Kid Hungry blog, here It is National AmeriCorps Week. To celebrate, No Kid Hungry is highlighting the work of Cooking Matters National Direct AmeriCorps Members throughout the country.
Alexa Eisenberg is our current AmeriCorps member. Alexa was born and raised in southeast Michigan and has recently moved to Detroit, where she loves exploring new places and meeting new people. She coordinates classes, oversees social media, and works on volunteer recruitment. Although her interest in food systems is broad, she is particularly passionate about the food justice issues that face Detroit. In 2012 she earned her Bachelor’s from the University of Michigan in Environmental Sciences and Communications with a focus on urban sustainability. Upon graduation, Alexa joined the Cooking Matters team at the Gleaners Food Bank in Detroit, Michigan. She loves working for Cooking Matters and feels proud to be a part of the Gleaners team.
I am currently in my fifth month of service as the Cooking Matters AmeriCorps member for the Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan. As my first professional endeavor after college, this position with Gleaners gives me a wonderful introduction to employment, and may be the beginning of a meaningful career in public health. This experience has furthered my interest the connection between food justice and preventative health care for diet-related illnesses including obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Each day I am glad to go to work, knowing that my time and effort is spent working to improve the health of others.
My favorite part of the job is my regular interaction with the communities of Detroit. I grew up in the Detroit suburbs and have a strong affinity for the city, but a lot to learn. Coordinating classes for Cooking Matters gives me the opportunity to spend time in parts of the city I would not typically find myself, interacting with Detroiters I would not otherwise come to know. Detroit is a city of strong, independent, and loyal citizens that want what is best for their families and their communities
Healthy food options are scarce in many areas of Detroit. Cooking Matters empowers Detroiters with the skills necessary to make healthy choices when options are limited. The ability to read food labels, understand how to prepare fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables, and how to meal plan and shop with a list may seem trivial, but can greatly impact food choices made by individuals on an everyday basis. By teaching participants that it is possible to prepare nutritious, affordable meals that their families will enjoy, Cooking Matters can help individuals make real, lasting changes to their diets. My experience with Cooking Matters has shown me that in addition to food access, food education is a vital component of community food security, particularly in Detroit.
Until working with Cooking Matters, I never realized the potential for nutrition and culinary education in empowering families to fight hunger and lead healthier lifestyles. It is often the case that participants want to provide healthy meals for their family, but don’t know where to start. I recently gave a Shopping Matters tour to a single, working mother of six who was looking to change her family’s eating habits. She found it difficult enough to get food on the table, let alone fresh fruits and vegetables. We discussed money saving tips like buying whole foods in bulk, utilizing frozen and canned options, and choosing whole grains to keep her kids fuller for longer. We brainstormed quick, healthy meals she could make after a long day of work to replace the ramen noodles her kids were used to eating. Armed with the ability to read food labels and compare prices, she left the store that day not only with a bag of groceries, but the confidence to make informed decisions and change her life.
My experience as an AmeriCorps member thus far has filled me with a sense of gratitude and purpose that I could not have imagined before. I look forward to the rest of my service, knowing that it will undoubtedly bring new challenges and opportunities for growth.