My name is Beverly Ramos Lopez and I have always had a strong interest in nutrition and how the importance of it could be shared. Therefore, as a second year in Health Promotion at American University I was able to register for the HPRM 205 Nutrition course. However, because we were going to learn so much great content in the classroom that I wanted to take part outside as I have before through The Community Service Learning Program so I could learn how the knowledge I am learning is relative to my community.
I reached out to Crossroads Community Food Network because their mission is about not just expanding healthy food access but also teaching the young minds in the community how to make health food choices by empowering them. Crossroads first began with the hope of increasing the access of fresh and healthy food to all families in the area. Takoma has various areas in the community that range with different socioeconomic status, but Crossroads makes it their goal to provide for all these household regardless of their background. They hold Crossroads Farmers Market from April until November yearly and were the first Market in Maryland to launch the “double dollar” incentive program. In this way it would allow families to use their federal benefits in a fresh farmer’s market without the fear of not having enough funds to take part. In addition, it empowers community members to take lead in not just where they purchase their food but also on them having a choice to make healthy eating choices, providing a sense of power for their health. Crossroads addresses the issue of providing healthy food access through their Farmers Market to all households regardless of the socioeconomic gap by approving federal benefits and providing many resources for the community.
As a volunteer with Crossroads Community Food Network I assist with the Healthy Eating Program, help with Community Outreach, and help reach a greater audience by now translating resources such as recipes and manuals. In the Healthy Eating Program, I am able to join the children of Piney Branch Elementary School during interactive sessions where they have farmer visits, food tastings, and cooking lessons in order to teach them about healthy eating. For the Community Outreach I travel with other volunteers around the neighborhood in order to share information and promote the Crossroads Farmers Market. We invite everyone and anyone whether it is too little shops nearby or families that are familiar with the area, there is something for everyone at the Market. Since I am bilingual and many members of the Community are part of Spanish speaking households I started to translate some of their resources in order to increase the access they could have not just at the Market but also at home when they look for recipes or wish to know more.
My expectations were somewhat different than what I really do now because I had originally signed up to help with the Healthy Eating Program and Community Outreach. For the Healthy Eating Program, I thought I would be more involved in the process of learning how to lead one of the sessions but I understand that because I am not a staff member they cannot train me if I could only be part of the Program once a week. Therefore, I help mostly with whatever the Health Educator needs but I learned that it is still a great opportunity to gain experience on how nutrition is the main component and drive of their mission. For Community Outreach I thought I would be at booths in different areas and taking part in sharing flyers throughout the community. Since there is no specific area we can reach all the community members we do not stay in one place rather go from door to door to invite everyone. This was not particularly a challenge but it was very different than the outreach I had done before; my communication skills were very crucial in these moments because I had to learn how to approach people in a welcoming manner without making them feel uncomfortable.
As I volunteer I am able to connect general concepts in the classroom to Crossroads’ purpose, the mission expands healthy food access to members in the community. The benefits of shopping at local markets tie in really well to how the Healthy Eating Program brings in farmers into the classrooms to share with the children on what it means to grow fresh produce in a nearby farm. Exposing these insights in the classroom is crucial because it allows children to understand the benefits and risks that come with purchasing processed foods versus purchasing food from the farmer’s market. When they take part in creating their own food it allows them to realize healthy eating is possible and is not just for those who have time or money but can be possible. While volunteering at Crossroads I have learned that teaching about healthy eating involves both effort and resources but it all starts with effort and knowledge becomes the most powerful resource. Thanks to my learning I have taken initiative and sent a proposal to start a Healthy Eating Class in the community youth program I took part of when I was back home, it has been approved and I am now in the process to continue developing the program that will be offered for their summer session.