- Author: Leah Sourbeer
Alameda County EFNEP courses provided online cooking education and local referral to food resources during the COVID-19 pandemic, helping increase participants food security, and supporting UC ANR's public value of safe, sufficient, and healthy food for all Californians.
COVID-19 has impacted low-income communities by increasing rates of food insecurity. In Alameda County, the food insecurity rate is projected to increase 52% from 2018 to 2020. Families have increasingly relied on food banks and food distribution events to provide adequate nourishment during this time. As reported by KPIX CBS SF Bay Area, Mike Altfest, Community Engagement Director for the Alameda County Food Bank, stated “Since the start of this pandemic, our food distribution has increased between 50 and 70 percent.” Additionally, “We've never seen anything like this in 35 years in business.”
How UC Delivers
In response to COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders, Alameda County Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) educator Nelly Camacho pivoted to offer remote nutrition classes to parents in place of traditional in-person classes. EFNEP class participants shared how difficult it was for them to feed their families given job losses, reduced work hours, children being home from school, and other challenges. To respond to community members' needs, Nelly spent extensive time researching and calling food distribution sites to provide updated information to her participants. She shared dates, times, locations, and any special notes such as ‘They're also giving out diapers!' with her classes.
Nelly also focused her recipe demonstrations on the food items commonly distributed at food bank sites. At times, food items available at distribution events are unfamiliar to participants, and they may not know how to prepare them. To help with this, participants notified Nelly in advance about what items they had received so that she could prepare recipe demonstrations using those foods. Participants were excited to learn new, tasty recipes using the food they received, and shared photos of their homemade dishes. Recipe demonstrations included a smoothie using both kale and canned fruit, a ‘tuna ceviche' highlighting tuna fish and onion, and new ways to use cottage cheese,a food item many participants did not usually consume, such as the addition of cottage cheese to the traditional Peruvian dish called Papa a la Huancaina.
Nelly's efforts to provide food resource information was effective and wide-reaching. Her participants shared the information with other family, friends and neighbors, increasing food access to additional families in need. EFNEP evaluation data collected between April and September 2020 showed that 52% of 44 participants improved in at least one food security indicator (not eating less than you wanted so there was more food for your family or having enough money to get food). This finding is promising because research shows that food insecurity is related to poor physical and mental health outcomes. According to one participant, "There were foods that I didn't know (and) now I will cook them. It was nice to share with my friends." (EFNEP participant, Hayward). Another remarked, "Thank you for letting me know where to get free food." (EFNEP participant, Newark). By offering local referral to food resources and complimentary cooking classes, Alameda County EFNEP helps to support UC ANR's public value of safe, sufficient, and healthy food for all Californians during a crucial time.