Undergrad researcher helps expand food bank’s reach
Published: Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 17:09
Every Thursday at the corner of North Jackson and West 10th Street in Wilmington, baskets filled with fresh produce line the tables-—a common sight at most farmers markets. However, this farmers market, Wilmington Farmer’s Market at Cool Springs Park, provides more than just fruits and vegetables. It provides opportunities, senior Milagros Chiri-Zapata said.
In conjunction with the Office of Service Learning and the Community Supported Agriculture program of the Food Bank of Delaware, Chiri-Zapata said she worked this summer to recruit low-income Delawareans of the Latino community to the Wilmington Farmer’s Market. Through interviews, on-site experience and observation, Chiri-Zapata said she hopes to give this population diversified food options.
“In Delaware, the Latino community is a very vulnerable group,” Chiri-Zapata said. “However, only a small percentage of the population participates in Food Bank programs.”
Food insecurity, defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as “the consistent access to adequate food,” runs rampant in the Latino community, with Latino households twice more likely to be food insecure than other minorities.
Additionally, these households are less likely to have access to fresh produce, Chiri-Zapata said. Because of this inaccessibility, the Food Bank of Delaware created the Community Supported Agriculture Program, which allows families receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or food stamps, to obtain fresh produce. At the market, “shareholders” can pay $10 a week upfront for a bag to fill with seasonal, fresh and locally grown produce, according to the Food Bank.
Due to a $300,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the program will be funded for three years, according to a press release by the Food Bank dated back to November 2012.
“Through partnerships with community-based organizations we provide not only immediate food assistance, but the education needed for families to make informed, healthy decisions about eating within a limited budget,” Patricia Beebe, president of the Food Bank of Delaware, stated in a press release. “This program will allow us provide outreach to households about not only healthy foods, but how local farmers play a key role in our food supply.”
After conversing with locals, Chiri-Zapata said many participants questioned why produce was not accessible to everyone.
“Why can only people with money eat healthy?” one program participant asked, according to Chiri-Zapata.
Another participant said she noticed her husband’s blood pressure drop after they got involved in the program, according to Chiri-Zapata.
Chiri-Zapata, an immigrant from Peru, said she worked as a “liaison” with this population due to her Spanish-speaking skills, as well as her personal understanding of not having access to “culturally-appropriate” food. Because she is a native Spanish speaker, she said participants could better relate to her.
As a Service Learning Scholar, Chiri-Zapata said she was completely immersed into the Food Bank, working side-by-side with coordinators and talking with program participants. A primary goal of her project was to recruit new members from local Hispanic centers, explaining to them the benefits of obtaining a “share” to the Community Supported Agriculture program.
The program, which runs through Oct. 3, has seen an estimated 50 to 60 percent of its participants are of Latino heritage, Chiri-Zapata said. Though she notes the significance of this turnout, she said the program did not receive as many participants as coordinators hoped.
“We estimated getting 100 families to turnout,” she said. “We’ve gotten 50 to 70 families. That means at least 30 families are not taking advantage of the program.”
Despite not reaching its goal this year, Chiri-Zapata said coordinators hope to expand the program in the future. One of the goals, she said, is to establish a close relationship with local Latin American Community Center in order to recruit more members. And although funding will run out after three years, the ultimate plan is for the program to become completely self-sufficient, she said.
Her contract may have ended at the conclusion of the summer, but that does not mean it’s the end of what Chiri-Zapata said was a meaningful experience.
“My contract with Service Learning has ended, but I’m still working with the program,” Chiri-Zapata said. “It will always