INCREASING ACCESS TO HEALTHY FOOD: A YEAR AT MARION-POLK FOOD SHARE
AmeriCorps VISTA Story of Service
During her year of service as the Community Food Access Coordinator at the Marion-Polk Food Share in Salem, Emily Vincent helped members of Marion and Polk Counties gain access to healthy foods, by coordinating the pilot Farm Share Rx and Senior Grocery Programs, supporting nutritional education classes, and securing funds for program sustainability.
Getting Started at Marion-Polk Food Share
Emily Vincent graduated from college in spring of 2016, with a degree in Environmental Science. Like most post-graduates, she started the dreaded job search. After a long search with little luck, Emily finally came across the AmeriCorps VISTA “Community Food Access Coordinator” position at the Marion-Polk Food Share. This opportunity stood out to her for two reasons: first, it was a position in her hometown of Salem, Oregon (a place she loves!) and second, Emily has always been interested in issues of food access and nutrition and she was excited to be involved in a project with this focus.
In February 2017, Emily started her year of VISTA service at the Marion-Polk Food Share (MPFS)—a regional food bank serving Marion and Polk counties by providing food, community gardens, and educational/training resources to people in need. As Community Food Access Coordinator, Emily focused on coordinating the launch of the Farm Share Rx Program, implementing the Senior Grocery Program, collecting data to inform current and future projects, and writing grants to ensure program sustainability.
Farm Share Rx Program
Accessing healthy food is a challenge for many Oregonians. Whether due to limited income, lack of knowledge on how to use and prepare food, or both, an inability to access healthy food often leads to diet-related illness. To help people in the community improve their health and knowledge of healthy foods, Emily helped pilot the Food Share Rx Program. This innovative program was created in partnership with two local health clinics—one in Salem, one in Grand Ronde—to give participants with diet-related illness a “prescription” for one free Food Box per week for 10 weeks during the summer.
As part of this program, participants also receive nutrition education. At the Grand Ronde site, Emily helped coordinate the nutrition class “Plan Save Shop Cook”. Taught in partnership with OSU Extension, this class helped participants learn more about how to use their Rx Food Boxes and prepare the food in them. Classes had a great turn out in Grand Ronde, with an average of 10 participants per class! Emily spent most of the first half of her service year coordinating the Farm Share Rx Program, with weekly trips to Grand Ronde to ensure things were running smoothly. When the program concluded at the end of the summer, 60 participants had received 10 weeks of free, fresh food!
A few contributions Emily made at the Marion-Polk Food Share this year:
- Successful piloting of the innovative Farm Share Rx Program, including support for nutritional classes
- Increasing outreach and enrollment in the Senior Grocery Box Program
- Collecting data through focus groups and surveys to get a better understanding of the population they serve and program impact
- Securing funds from two grants to increase future sustainability of the Farm Share Rx Program
Biggest Challenges and Successes of the Year
Biggest Challenge: In all the projects Emily worked on, her biggest challenge was getting people to show up and pick up their food boxes, creating the need for a lot of reminder calls from the team.
Biggest Success: Overall, Emily was incredibly successful in every project she worked, but there are a few examples that shine above the rest:
- Her role in filling the participant caseload for the Senior Grocery Box Program and the partnership she helped create with a senior living community in Salem that received and distributed grocery boxes to members of their community
- Emily contributed in the writing of two grants that together secured more than $50,000 of funding for the Farm Share Rx Program. These two grants not only provide funds for next year’s programming, but also support program growth, with the goal set on providing boxes to 80 participants for an increased 14-week period.
“The fact that the Farm Share Program is happening next year is a major success!”
— Emily Vincent
Emily’s Valuable Lessons Learned
The main thing Emily is taking away from her year as a VISTA at the Marion-Polk Food Share is project management skills. She also started her year with very limited knowledge about nonprofits—something she now knows lots about. She recognizes the value in learning how nonprofits function, both the positive and negative sides!
Emily has lived in or near Salem her whole life and she is ready for a change. Upon conclusion of her term of service with AmeriCorps VISTA, Emily’s excited to start her job search and eventually make the move to Oregon’s largest city—Portland!
My Name: Emily Vincent
Service site: Marion-Polk Food Share
Hometown: Salem, Oregon
Fondest Oregon experience: Being in the path of totality during the 2017 solar eclipse was surreal and mind-blowing.
Unique contribution: I think I am a patient person who can be very insightful.
Proudest accomplishment: Graduating college with over a 3.5 GPA
Music of choice: No Doubt, David Bowie, The Clash, Ween, and The B-52s. Also the Original 1987 Broadway Cast Recording of Into the Woods.
Current sacrifice: Grocery shopping at Fred Meyer
Indulgence: Happy hour when I have time
Favorite movie: Pee Wees Big Adventure
Self-care regimen: bike rides, face masks, lavender-scented things
Wildest dream: Building my own cob house
My inspiration: My parents and my friends
Next steps: Hang around Salem until I find my next step
Advice to future members: Research professional development opportunities before you even start serving!
Favorite quote: “One day Time will die and Love will bury it”—Richard Brautigan