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June 2016

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Tackling Food Insecurity in Connecticut

Food security is a major issue across the nation and right here in Connecticut. According to the Connecticut Food Bank, 1 in 7 people in Connecticut struggle with hunger. That is over 300,000 people in our small state and 140,000 of them are children. The Connecticut Food Bank along with other community-based organizations are working diligently to combat hunger and to improve access to fresh, nutritional food. Fairfield University faculty, staff and students are eager to partner on these efforts.
 
This past spring semester, Dr. Dina Franceschi’s Environmental Economics service-learning course partnered with two local organizations working to bring fresh foods to local communities: Green Village Initiative (GVI), an organization leading change through the creation and networking of urban gardens, and Community Plates, an organization that, through the use of technology, coordinates volunteers to rescue food that would otherwise be thrown away due to cosmetic imperfections or approaching expiration dates and transfer it to food insecure individuals. The task for Dr. Franceschi’s students was to gain a complex understanding of how each organization operates in order to identify ways of measuring impact (a project that will continue through the summer and fall). Melissa Spiesman, National Site Director for Community Plates, reflected on the project saying, “Community Plates’ greatly values the work of Dr Franceschi’s class for its analysis of our work to help quantify impact. We were also so pleased at the responses from the students who were so motivated by the work that we do.”
 
Additionally, this spring, Dr. Wook-Sung Yoo’s capstone Software Engineering service-learning course worked with GVI to create a web-based map of their urban gardens. Finally, Catherine Anderson and a senior enrolled in the new Health Studies Minor collaborated with the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport (CCGB) through a capstone research project focused on raising awareness to the nutritional quality of food distributed through food pantries and community meal programs so that individuals and families, as well as donors and program managers, can make informed choices. The “stop light” model that emerged from the research will be useful to CCGB’s pantries and programs.
 
These efforts have catalyzed ongoing campus-community partnerships. In early April, the Center for Faith and Public Life partnered with the Integrated Nursing and Health Sciences Initiative to host a meeting of University faculty, staff, and students as well as representatives from GVI, Community Plates and the CCGB to explore ongoing opportunities for collaboration. A lively conversation led to many ideas on ways to partner through teaching, research and service. Michelle McCabe, director of Food Access and Community Engagement at the CCGB, summed up the importance of this initiative saying, “partnerships between universities and social services agencies are critical to any real progress in addressing poverty. Universities provide the research and evaluation necessary to better grasp problems at the local level, and collect and analyze the data needed to truly understand impact. With their help, we can better serve our community as well as test progressive models that can have national implications.” Likewise, “community partners serve as co-educators to University students, providing them with meaningful, real-world opportunities to apply their knowledge and skills to address challenges and create change,” says Melissa Quan, Director of Service Learning. “Partnerships, at their best, are mutually-beneficial and transformative.”
 
Several service-learning courses are being developed over the summer to focus on this issue and there will be more to come. Please contact Melissa Quan at mquan@fairfield.edu if you are interested in contributing to this work.

Last modified: Thu, 09 Jun 2016 15:57:29 EDT