Food Banks Across the Country Turn to More Nutritious Offerings with Help from MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, and Kaiser Permanente

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Michelle Stuffmann
Phone: (424) 208-7203
Email: mstuffmann@mazon.org

Food Banks Across the Country Turn to More Nutritious Offerings with Help from MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, and Kaiser Permanente

Los Angeles, November 19, 2012—As the nation’s food banks face continued demand coupled with a sluggish economy and a fast approaching holiday season, several food banks are redefining their standard food offerings and demonstrating success in making nutritious, healthy foods more available. The 12 participating food banks are part of the Healthy Options, Healthy MealsTM  initiative, a partnership between MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger and Kaiser Permanente.

The Healthy Options, Healthy MealsTM initiative is a two-and-a-half year collaborative program that aims to reshape the capacity of food banks to support healthier, more nutritious offerings for the nearly 6.1 million U.S. households who rely annually on food banks and food pantries for their meals. A significant outcome of the program has been that each of the 12 participating food banks chose to develop and implement formal nutrition policies. According to Abby J. Leibman, president & CEO of MAZON, “MAZON proposed this initiative because it is clear to us that food banks and food pantries have a unique and critical role to play in advancing nutritious food options for those they serve. It’s already evident that these guidelines for nutrition are starting to radically shift the way the food banks operate.”

“These 12 food banks are setting a new standard within the food banking community, paving the way for their peers to be more proactive in the fight against obesity,” says Marla Feldman, director for the Healthy Options, Healthy MealsTM initiative at MAZON. “Formal, documented nutrition policies provide a concrete blueprint for how food providers can increase the nutritional quality of the foods and beverages they distribute.”

Recent studies produced by the Atkins Center for Weight and Health at the University of California at Berkeley echo such findings. One such study found that, although the vast majority of food bank directors and staff favor having nutrition standards in their food banks, few of them actually have formal, written policies to guide their decision-making. The researchers underscore that “formalized policies may be necessary to effectively convert good attitudes and intentions to good actions.” They also point to a number of additional benefits that a written policy can provide, including steering outreach and nutrition education efforts and supporting the efforts of food bank personnel to educate donors and the community at-large about the food bank’s desire to provide healthier, more nutritional choices to its agencies and the people they serve. 

“Anyone in the business of fighting hunger needs to be thinking about the health of the people they serve,” says Loel Solomon, Ph.D., vice president, Community Health, Kaiser Permanente. “Our partnership with MAZON brings together key stakeholders—food bank staff, community health leaders and donors—to address the nutritional needs of their communities so that we can turn the tide on problems like malnutrition and obesity.”

One of several highlights in the HOHM program has been the progress made by the Capital Area Food Bankin Washington, DC. The food bank recently upgraded its main facility to a new 123,000-square-foot food distribution center that includes increased refrigerator and freezer space to store fresh produce, new classrooms, and commercial and teaching kitchens to hold nutrition education and cooking classes. Such enhancements make fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and other nutritious foods more of the norm, enhancing the health of food bank clientele.

“The relationship with MAZON has been transformative,” explains Jodi Balis, a registered dietician with the Capital Area Food Bank. “The peer learning, technical assistance, and one-on-one support MAZON provided has been instrumental in helping us shape our nutrition policy and ultimately change the kinds of foods we procure and the ways we engage the community in healthier eating.”

About MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger

Founded in 1985, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger is a national nonprofit organization working to end hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds in the United States and Israel. Through its three interrelated strategies – advocacy and education, partnership grant making and strategic initiatives – MAZON is acting to ensure that hungry people have access to the nutritious food they need today and working to develop and advance long-term solutions so that no one goes hungry tomorrow. For more information, please visit mazon.org.

About Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, our mission is to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve more than 9 million members in nine states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to: kp.org/newscenter.