HARRISBURG, Pa. — Food insecurity is a growing issue for many local communities. In 2016, the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank conducted a community assessment which illustrated that 36,600 people in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania — approximately 13 percent of residents — were food insecure. Data from Penn State Harrisburg’s WE cARE Food Pantry shows that more than 120 students have used the pantry since its opening in August 2018.
Elizabeth Gutman, a master's student in health education at Penn State Harrisburg, is tackling the issue of food insecurity with her website "A Nourished Community," a resource dedicated to making access to affordable, healthy food, a reality. With this website, Gutman hopes to make a lasting impact on Penn State Harrisburg and local communities that are facing food insecurity.
"A Nourished Community" contains numerous resources dedicated to helping alleviate the pressures that students and individuals face as they struggle to purchase food. The website offers tips for grocery shopping and meal prep, healthy recipes requiring fewer than ten ingredients, how-to videos on cooking, local grocery store and food pantry information, coupon websites and more.
As a health education graduate student, Gutman has a passion for helping others live healthier lives. She cited learning about the WE cARE Food Pantry as being one of the main inspirations for "A Nourished Community," because she previously had not been aware of the extent of local food insecurity. Knowing that some of the main challenges to accessing healthy food include cost and availability, Gutman geared her project toward helping to make a healthy lifestyle become more feasible for everyone.
Gutman’s initiative has three main goals for success: The first is to instruct college students and low-income individuals and families on how to eat healthy on a budget through recipes; the second goal is to educate college students and low-income individuals on how to be successful grocery store shoppers by saving money with coupons; and the third goal is to provide the Middletown, Pennsylvania, community with resources that allow them to access food at no cost, such as food pantries.
Both her coursework and the guidance of her professors gave Gutman the resources she needed to successfully create the project. In the initial stages of creating the website in the fall of 2018, Gutman took the health education course Planning and Developing Health Education Programs. For the course, she completed a needs assessment and a program paper, both on the topic of food insecurity in Middletown among low-income individuals and families and college students of Penn State Harrisburg.
She said, “This course helped me to lay the foundation for the development of my website, permitted me to conduct further research on food insecurity, and determine that 'A Nourished Community' was truly a need for our campus community and beyond.”
Additionally, Gutman sought the guidance of Weston Kensinger, professor-in-charge of the health education program, for multiple stages throughout the development of her project, from the idea to create a website to its launch when she sought final edits.
“In the end, I could not have created 'A Nourished Community' without the help, guidance and encouragement of Dr. Kensinger and the support that he gave me and continues to give me throughout this entire process,” she said.
Gutman explained that the overall mission for the website is to create a welcoming online atmosphere where people can visit and find the resources they need from their community to nourish their bodies and live a healthy and nutritious lifestyle.
“I want students to know that 'A Nourished Community' is a welcoming place,” Gutman said. “My goal is for students to feel equipped to find the resources they need to assist them in combating their hunger, and to encourage them in a way that makes them feel valued, despite the struggles they are facing.”
For those interested in further combating food insecurity, Gutman recommends several other ways to contribute to food accessibility, such as donating to organizations that help fight hunger, or volunteering at a local food bank, food pantry, soup kitchen, or school breakfast program, as 51 percent of all food programs rely on volunteers. She said staying informed about current issues and talking to others about the presence of food insecurity in one’s community and the nation helps spread the word and influence others to advocate for those who may not be able to advocate for themselves.