COVID-19 Spotlight: Jenny Ryan, CHES®, Nutrition Education Coordinator

The Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina works every day to provide food to people in need while building solutions to end hunger in communities encompassing 34 counties. Through partnerships, education, and programs, the Food Bank empowers communities to overcome hunger, creating an environment where all North Carolinians thrive.

Certified Health Education Specialist Jenny Ryan is part of a Nutrition Education Team with the Food Bank, working to shorten the line and address the cycle of food insecurity within these communities. Her job duties include such responsibilities as conducting nutrition education classes, creating handouts and class curriculas, as well as distributing more than 13,000 education materials a month to food pantries and other partners throughout her service area. She conducts trainings as well as the recruitment of volunteers to help with both direct and non-direct nutrition education. In total, her team has reached over 9,800 people through direct education within 6 months.

COVID-19 Changes

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jenny Ryan’s responsibilities have undergone a transition to ensure that communities continue to receive support and necessary information without direct contact. According to Jenny, “All of our in-person cooking demonstrations have transitioned to virtual, with online access to videos. We are monitoring our Healthy Pantries virtually, as well as coaching our partners in navigating the engagement of clients without direct contact.

New Roles and Responsibilities

The Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina has a Benefits Outreach team that assists clients with Food Stamp (Food & Nutrition Services or SNAP) and Medicaid applications. Prior to COVID-19 work, the Benefits Outreach team was averaging 180 applications per month. With the current economy, the team saw an influx of need with application assistance from those in our community. According to Ryan, “I was trained to support the Benefits Outreach team and currently spend 1-2 days a week helping with Food Stamp and Medicaid applications. In April, the team completed 372 applications, which equals 216,926 meals and 260,311 pounds of food.”

With the practice of social distancing and majority of Food Pantry volunteers being elderly, some sites that distribute senior boxes (Commodity Supplemental Food Program) have closed. The Food Bank shifted operations and asked staff and community groups to complete home deliveries for counties in need. Jenny assists with food box home deliveries for seniors as necessary.

April was a record-breaking month for the Food Bank, distributing 7.68 million pounds of food to our community. This was the largest single-month distribution the Food Bank has recorded in its 40-year history.

With the added support from all donors and partner agencies, the Food Bank:

  • Increased transportation resources to provide additional food to communities.
  • Coordinated with new partners to ensure needs are being met for people across 34 counties.
  • Increased the distribution of fresh produce, thanks to farmer and grower partners, to 2.7 million pounds.

On top of our normal operations serving the community, the Food Bank has distributed over 25,000 boxes, containing 20 meals per box, in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

A Look Ahead at Crisis Planning

Sara Clement, RD, LDN, is the Food Bank Manager of Nutrition Education Chair of the Wellness Committee. She has headed the effort of hygiene, social distancing, and staff health practices. In conjunction with CDC and Feeding America guidance she receives, Jenny has forwarded SOPHE and NCHEC communications to her to take into consideration when recommending policies and practices to the Food Bank’s Crisis Planning and Executive Management Teams.

The Lasting Impact of COVID

When asked about lasting impacts to nutrition education as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jenny replied, “I think my role will take time to get back to where it was pre-COVID with in person education but, we remain committed to engaging with clients however we can. We had previously talked about doing virtual education and COVID-19 expedited that process. We will continue to utilize online platforms after COVID-19 and I think it will complement our onsite education.”


Posted by Jessica Wessner at 6:00 AM
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