Diversity and Inclusion Meets Food Assistance
The Wayne Y has been providing weekly direct food assistance to 200+ individuals and families negatively impact by the pandemic. Recipients of this emergency assistance are very diverse – diverse in age, gender, race, ethnicity and religious practices.
As our efforts have continued, we have become more focused on meeting the culturally-specific nutritional needs of our families. The United Way of Olmstead County in Minnesota has adopted the phrase Culturally-Responsive Food Provision to describe food assistance that ”…empowers individuals to maintain culturally integrity while accessing nutritional supports.”’ In the report, Culturally-Responsive Food Strategies (United Way of Olmstead County, 2018, p. 1) United Way explains:
Culturally responsivity in food provision can manifest itself in various ways: the provision of culture-specific foods, culturally-responsive distribution methods, or even culture specific education around food.
…From a systems perspective, programs that provide food-based interventions are more efficient if the food is consumed by the individuals receiving it. If the food being provided is not culturally relevant or acceptable – due to personal taste preference, knowledge on how to prepare the food, dietary restrictions, or religious restrictions – individuals may not use the food provided to them and will instead seek out more preferred food by other means. This redirects household resources that may have gone to other expenses had the food intervention been culturally relevant.
In order to adapt our food assistance efforts to respect and accommodate cultural specificity, we have been working to educate volunteers and those who donate food in support of these efforts about the diverse nutritional need of those we help each week. This requires adopting a lens that reaches beyond the standard American diet and food pantry list of staples, to learn about alternative preferences and religious restrictions, and shop accordingly.
While we are doing our best to educate and adapt locally, there are still many challenges to offering a culturally relevant food assistance program. For example, recently the USDA’s Farmers to Families food program, which has helped the Y and states throughout the country provide fresh fruits and vegetable to families in need since the Spring of 2020, began offering enhanced food boxes that also include dairy, eggs and meat. While we were very excited about this change, we learned that the meat products include pork, which has been challenging for our Muslim and Jewish families.
Even with this set back we continue to persevere in our efforts to offer a culturally specific food assistance program, which includes educating government agencies and food providers.
About the Grantee
The Wayne YMCA is charitable nonprofit organization that serves as the center of community and culture in Wayne Township. We are a powerful association of men, women and children joined together by a shared commitment to nurturing the potential of kids, promoting healthy living and fostering a sense of social responsibility. At the Y, strengthening community FOR ALL is our cause.
Cohort: North 1
Funder: New Jersey Department of Health