January 14, 2021 - 12:36pm -- shoemaker.306@o...

CANFIELD — SNAP-Ed in Mahoning County is on a mission to make a healthier community through education — and by providing the tools for the program.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Education Program (SNAP-Ed) is a free nutrition education and obesity prevention program that serves low-income adults, youth and families.

It is funded through the Food Nutrition Service branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, operating in 52 states and territories and is going strong in the Mahoning Valley. The program focus is individuals and families eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.

“There is no application for individuals to participate in the program,” said SNAP-Ed program coordinator Kaytlin Felger. “SNAP-Ed is a free evidence-based nutrition education program that reaches lower-income, and SNAP-eligible residents through partnerships with local agencies who serve this audience.”

She said in Ohio, the SNAP-Ed program has developed out of a partnership between the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and Ohio State University Extension. In Mahoning County, the SNAP-Ed program is delivered out of the OSU Extension office in Canfield and consists of sessions throughout the year.

“The number of classes per year is variable and depends on the number of sessions an agency wants and the size of the audience they serve,” Felger said. “We work with roughly 30 agencies in Mahoning County. Some agencies have small numbers of people they reach so one series is sufficient for us to provide education to all the individuals. Other agencies, like schools, may have us provide our programming to over a dozen individual classrooms of students.”

She said the program is available to any school district that has at least 50 percent of the students receiving free or reduced-price lunch per federal guidelines. Once a school is eligible, all students in the school are eligible to participate in the program.

OUTREACH EFFORTS

In 2019, Felger said Mahoning County SNAP-Ed delivered more than 1,000 programs reaching nearly 16,000 individuals. SNAP-Ed team members traveled to partnering agencies such as schools, nursing homes, senior centers, pre-school sites, after-school programs and several social services agencies.

For the recent year that was shaken by the COVID-19 pandemic, the SNAP-Ed program had to change how it delivered the educational program. While some of the sessions went virtual, that didn’t work in all cases.

“With some of our partner agencies and the audiences they serve, virtual learning is not feasible or has been challenging, so we have not been able to provide direct education to as many individuals as we did prior to COVID-19,” she said. “We have, however, continued to provide outreach and share resources with our agencies to help them best reach their audiences with educational materials from SNAP-Ed.”

She said the program uses a variety of curricula for different age groups. The length of individual sessions are shorter for youth than for adults, and lessons are delivered using language, visuals and hands-on activities that are developmentally appropriate for the various groups.

“SNAP-Ed participants regularly share success stories with us about the changes they have made based on what they learn in SNAP-Ed programming,” Felger said. “For example, some successes participants have shared include that they have become more open to trying new fruits and vegetables, have prepared healthy recipes that were shared with them in SNAP-Ed classes and have decreased the amount of sugar-sweetened beverages they drink by switching them out for water.”

NEW YEAR

While 2021 has started with COVID-19 still hanging around, Felger said her SNAP-Ed crew has set goals.

“Our goals for 2021 are to meet people where they are and continue to be a reliable source of evidence-based nutrition information in the community,” she said. “We strive to maintain strong partnerships with agencies in the county and help them best meet the needs of their audiences when it comes to nutrition education.”

SNAP-Ed also provides resources through a social marketing campaign called “Celebrate Your Plate.” This campaign strives to increase fruit and vegetable consumption. The website www.celebrateyourplate.org is loaded with recipes that are easy to prepare, and information about the healthier food choices.

Felger said any Mahoning County agencies interested in getting connected with SNAP-Ed can send an email to Kaytlin Felger at felger.18@osu.edu to learn more.

jtwhitehouse@tribtoday.com