La Salle Stays True to Mission

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La Salle University, founded over 150 years ago, has a colorful history of charity and education. The mission declared by Saint John Baptiste de la Salle still holds true today, even outside the walls.

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Screen grab from Philadelphia Inquirer Crime Database

La Salle is situated in one of Philadelphia’s most troubled neighborhoods. The unemployment rate, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, averaged at about 19% over the past four years. An astounding amount of residents live without a high school degree. These troubling numbers, as well as the crime stats, make the area less than enticing for larger businesses. Why risk building a super shopping center in an area so risky?

Well, luckily for residents of the surrounding community, La Salle took a stand against hunger and inappropriate food options. They persuaded grocery giant, Fresh Grocer, to set up shop on their land along Wister and Olney Avenue. The university did not stop there. To stay true to their calling, students and faculty decided volunteering at soup kitchens was not enough. Together, they formed Exploring Nutrition- the organization that has dominated the posts on this site for the past five months.

Exploring Nutrition is something truly spectacular. It’s bridging the gap between the community and the college, something that isn’t exactly common in the Delaware Valley. La Salle understands that the more it brings life to the neighborhood, the nicer the school will look from the outside. But it’s more than image and marketability, La Salle is dedicated to helping those less fortunate. Check out the video below for testimonials from students and community members!

One of the main events highlighted in the video is the Easter Food Drive. Exploring Nutrition, back by students in the Leadership and Global Understanding Program, load hundreds of bags of fresh produce donated by Fresh Grocer. They volunteer over the weekend and deliver the food to food pantries in the area in hopes of bringing families together around delicious food for the celebrating of the Easter Holiday. Below are the locations the food was donated to and redistributed.

In 2010, the term “food desert” began to enter American lexicon thanks to First Lady Michelle Obama. Her main goal during her service to the country has been to lower obesity rates by curing the food desert issue and encouraging kids to get active. Although, there was a study conducted in Philadelphia that begs to differ with the First Lady.

Though La Salle is not directly involved in fighting obesity through exercise and activity, the Environmental Community of Olney is hoping to encourage neighborhood youth to get involved with the community garden. The goal is to encourage kids to actively take part in their diet and health and to finally understand how food affects mood and energy, which contribute greatly to academic performance. An added bonus- an hour of gardening burns significant calories, especially if you garden in a specific way to tone those glutes! Through gardening, the coordinators of the service group hope the community members take pride in the project and in watching food grow from seed to plate. The organization does not have any plans to hold education classes and workshops to coincide with the garden project just yet, but they are hoping to tack on education to their list of offerings.

Because of the Catholic tradition of service and Saint John Baptiste de La Salle’s dedication to educating the underprivileged and less fortunate, La Salle as a whole strongly encourages its students to partake in volunteer groups. ECO is one of the newest organizations on campus. It officially kicked off last year, but is quickly becoming a favorite amongst students looking to give back. Also new to the list of service groups is Camden Experience. This immersion service trip was created this year and is embarking on their first mission next Sunday. Students accepted to the trip will live across the bridge in New Jersey for a week volunteering across the city and educating residents about the importance of environmental sustenance and finding more ways to include fresh produce in their daily lives.

The Blogger’s Take:
I’m graduating La Salle in just over a week and I am one of the few who never really participated in service while here. All of my friends enrolled in service trips and participated in organizations that worked to improve the lives of many across the region. If I could change anything about my time here at La Salle, I would have gotten involved early on and stuck with it. By the time I got my school work under control and my major-based extracurriculars down pat, I was too engrossed to consider anything else. I did get accepted to a service trip- Volunteers in Mission- but had to drop when I was hired at an intern for the Sochi Olympics. It was a bittersweet decision. I will say, though, that my lack of involvement on campus has inspired me to look for ways to help within my skill set. I created a documentary about a local non-profit Red Paw that is played on La Salle TV and have supported them through social media interaction. And, it may be a reach, but I feel like journalism is a form of service. I am required to go into the community and speak to residents, learn about them, and give them a more public voice where their opinions can be heard and possibly even addressed. It’s small, I know, but I’m going to try to keep the La Salle mission in my mind as I go off into the real world. Finally, I’ll have my weekends will be free, so maybe I’ll forget about myself for a second and go out and volunteer at a soup kitchen.


Meating A New Standard

Every five years, a committee composed of highly qualified academics and researchers gather to review the latest research regarding health and nutrition. Together, they release the US Dietary Guidelines, which basically tell Americans what to eat to live the healthiest lifestyle. This time around, they made a pretty radical suggestion.

Professor Hestenburg, head of La Salle’s Nutrition Department, broke down the report for the class, but focused mainly on the most significant change- limiting red meat. The USDA committee decided upon this mainly because of the environmental affects of the meat industry, which marks the first time in the committee’s history that individual health benefits were not the deciding factor.

Source: Environmental Working Group

Source: Environmental Working Group

The most eye-opening research that ignited this change came out two US studies. Professor Gidon Eshel, of Bard College’s Environmental Policy department, found that the red meat industry requires 28 times more land and 11 times more water than pork or chicken, resulting in five times more emissions. According to Eshel, cattle make far less efficient use of the grains and grass they consume. Growing and maintaining feed crops for cattle produces more emissions than the farming of crops for human consumption.

The other revealing study was published by Eric Davidson of the The Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. Davidson found that the nitrous oxide, which is released by fertilizers and animal manure, is the most potent greenhouse gas. The major culprits in this contamination of the air are factory farming and the meat industry. Davidson projects catastrophic climate changes by 2050 if humans continue to consume red meat at the current rate and the industry continues to pollute the air.

The good news is, as Hestenburg pointed out in her presentation, is that there is a huge push in popular culture to limit beef. Health and nutrition are infiltrating society through fad diets like juicing, veganism, and paleo. The international campaign for Meatless Mondays is appearing across schools and workplaces around the globe. Modern restaurants are capitalizing on the “farm to table” craze (check out Philadelphia’s most popular F2T restaurant here) as well as offering more and more vegetarian options on their menus to appeal to a larger client base. Hip City Veg anyone? With the recently released Dietary Guidelines, even more changes are predicted, so keep a look out and think about your environmental footprint next time you’re considering chompin’ on that Big Mac.

Easter Food Drive Helps Hundreds

I had the chance to meet up with some of La Salle’s LGU students as they distributed fresh produce to different charitable organizations and churches around the area.

Click the image below to be taken to a little slideshow I made from some still photographs.

IMG_9082I have to say that my first concern was getting quality video footage, so some of the stills aren’t all that aesthetically appealing or speak to the work the amazing work the students did. The video footage, on the other hand, really captures it all… stay tuned for that!

Expert Chimes in on Obesity

Obesity isn’t necessarily a sign of weak self control. In most cases, blame is placed on the individual. Yes, eating habits play a large role in weight, but there is more in the equation.

On March 31, Dr. Goldbacher of La Salle’s Psychology Department spoke of the long list of risk factors when it comes to an individual’s weight.

“For obesity,” said Goldbacher. “Genetics load the gun and environment pulls the trigger. There is a biological predisposition to weight difficulties, but it’s possible not to have that as well.”

Data from 2010.

Obesity data from 2010.

Environment, as Goldbacher noted, encompasses a plethora of factors, which makes conquering obesity in the United States so daunting. Just look at the stats! Issues arise when communities have limited access to healthy food options and fresh produce. If the most convenient thing is to order fast food, weight issues are bound to occur. Why spend five dollars on four apples if you can buy two triple cheeseburgers at McDonalds for the same price? Fast food restaurants are sneaky, trust me Not to mention, apples are far less visually appealing than other items on grocery store shelves. Unhealthy foods are packaged in brightly colored boxes with cute cartoons in order to stand out and entice consumers, especially children. Packaging is HUGE when it comes to brand loyalty (check out this study).

Issues arise in schools, too. Because of the push for students to spend more time in the classroom learning to perform better on standardized tests, recesses are being cut alongside physical education classes, single handedly removing another avenue for children to learn the benefits and joys of exercise. It’s unbelievable how helpful reinstating these programs can be in shaping children and their health. Basically, the way society is currently set up, it’s a wonder everyone isn’t breaking the scales.

Goldbacher also brought up the concept of mindless eating, which can be filed under behavioral factors that contribute to obesity. There are very few occasions in which people sit down to eat and focus solely on eating. Their mind is elsewhere or they’re engaging in other activities (talking, studying, watching tv) while consuming. This lack of attention leads to unexpected overeating, and it’s especially troubling because most of the time the food that’s being snacked on is unhealthy.

I wonder if this is more prominent in the US because we’re always on the go. When I eat lunch, I simultaneously work on homework. When I’m hungry and have free time, I typically watch TV while snacking. And in my professional experience, there are large numbers of employees that eat lunch at their desk in order to stay on top of their workload. It’s efficient, but is it healthy?

Just like Exploring Nutrition is out to educate the community about healthy eating and to provide neighborhoods with fresh produce and better options, Goldbacher and members of the Psychology Department are joining the fight against obesity. Their clinic (La Salle Community Center for Counseling and Psychological Services) offers low cost services to community members in order to help individuals overcome their weight-related difficulties through a multitude of treatment options and education.

If you are struggling with weight-related issues and are interested in visiting the clinic, check out this website or call (215) 951-1006. A healthier you is possible!

When Food Becomes the Enemy

This post is a bit overdue, sure, but better late than never.

February 22-28 marked National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I figured since this blog is dedicated to nutrition, it would be worthwhile to take a look into the dark side of it all. Namely, when an obsession with health becomes detrimental. Take a look at an interview I produced for La Salle TV’s Sportsline with the help of my co-producer, Brendan Rigney (whose mean mug you see on camera). Rebecca Scardelletti is a senior on the La Salle Cross Country and Track team. She’s was an absolute pleasure to work with and reminded Brendan and I why we chose to pursue journalism. Giving her a voice and a platform is something that I am absolutely honored to do.

Ridding Waste on College Campuses

I was watching the Big Ten Network with my dad a few months ago (presumably viewing a field hockey game or a wrestling tournament) when this PSA took to the airways. Sure, it’s the Big10 Network, it wants to make the schools within the conference look enticing to potential students and arguably most important, donors. However, University of Maryland’s brainchild, the Food Recovery Network, is something spectacular that deserves such attention and much more.

According to a 2013 study out of the World Resources Institute, about 1/3 of all food produced worldwide is wasted in food production and consumption systems. Essentially, about one in four calories intended for consumption is never actually eaten. WHAT?! In the US, up to 40 percent of food is wasted… that’s more than 20 pounds of food per person each month.

Luckily, The Food Recovery Network is tackling these these problems that have plagued American society for decades. Surprisingly, they seem to be making more of an impact than the US government. The work done by the NPO earned founder Ben Simon a spot on the Forbes 30 Under 30 List for Social Entrepreneurs in 2015.

Marked locations of all campuses that have a Food Recovery Network chapter.

Marked locations of all campuses that have a Food Recovery Network chapter.

Food served at colleges is prepared daily. It has to be up to health and nutrition standards in order to be served to students. Doesn’t everyone ask about the food on campus tours? It’s fresh and most of the time still warm when it’s thrown out. So instead of throwing it out, it’s quickly packaged and driven by volunteers to local food banks, churches, and shelters.

The student-founded program has more than 125 chapters in colleges and universities throughout the country and have recovered and donated 671,978 pounds of food since its inception in late 2011. Each chapter is responsible for working with on and off-campus dining halls and eateries to gather unsold and unused food for donation (both keeping it from landfills and putting it on dinner tables that are typically barren) and also educate the student body and surrounding community of the issues of food waste and hunger. Sounds a bit like Exploring Nutrition, no? 

The most difficult aspect of the program is changing opinions. The word “leftovers” sometimes bears a negative connotation, a sort of “no one else wanted it, so I got it instead” type of mentality. However, because of the quality of the food and the strong need for it, things are beginning to change.

Currently in the Philadelphia area, Drexel, Villanova, Saint Joe’s and University of the Sciences have active chapters. La Salle does not take part in the Food Recovery Network- a statement that will hopefully change in the near future.

Barrfare got a shout out from the NPO’s Twitter!

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Fresh Opinions at Fresh Grocer

I had the chance to go over to Fresh Grocer this week to talk to members of the community about their opinions of the grocery store. Many of the individuals I talked to had no idea what the Exploring Nutrition Project was, and how La Salle influenced its construction. The individuals I spoke to stressed Fresh Grocer’s convenience. Its location is ideal for residents of the surrounding neighborhood, but some have concerns about prices.

Take a listen!

They Can(aan) Help

According to the 2010 US Census, just about 22 percent of Germantown residents live below 100 percent of the poverty line. That’s over 5,000 people. East Germantown is even worse, with 28 percent of its 26,000+ residents living in such squalor. The area is plagued by poor education, poor housing, and crime.

But one organization is fighting tirelessly against the strength of Germantown’s poverty trap and with the help of La Salle LGU students, real change is happening.

Barrfare chatted with Kellsey Turner, a La Salle senior who double majors in communication and leadership & global understanding. The honors student spends a significant portion of her weekly routine at The Family Life Center, located around the corner from its parent, the Canaan Baptist Church, on Pulaski Street.

BF: What is the main goal of the Family Life Center?
KT: The Family Life Center is associated with Canaan Baptist Church, however it is a separate entity. The mission of the FLC is to provide the people of Germantown with the services and resources necessary for a quality life. These include services such as counseling, education, job training, incarceration re-entry assistance, emergency food and clothing, and housing assistance. In essence, the FLC’s main goal is to support and provide for the people of Germantown.
BF: So FLC works to support residents, but who supports FLC? Where does the money for these programs come from? 
KT: The FLC is mainly supported through grants. Their food pantry is associated with Philabundance and receives additional support from them. They’re also supported through the generous donations of the local community and the members of Canaan Baptist.
BF: I’m sure their workload is lighter with you there as a volunteer. What sort of tasks are you involved in?
KT: I work specifically with the Incarceration Re-Entry Assistance Program. This program is called Sisters Returning Home and is directed by Peggy Sims. The faith-based non-profit works with previously incarcerated women to assist them with re-entry into the community by providing them with housing assistance, food and clothing, and assistance finding a job. The program helps each woman identify their needs and goals, then it works to address these needs and fulfill these goals by empower the women to take action in their own lives and providing them with the resources necessary to do so. ​In my role as a volunteer, I am currently working on building a website for Sisters Returning Home. I am also assisting in creating and maintaining a Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for the organization.
BF: What a great way to utilize your skills as a Communication major to help benefit this great organization! I’m sure your supervisor is thrilled to have someone like you on board. What is she like, Peggy?
KT: She founded the organization back in 2007 after working with women in prison. She recognized that there was a need for services specified toward females in prison, as their special needs were not being met and they had access to less resources than most prisons for men. As a result she opened Sisters Returning Home, which is dedicated to assisting these women in their re-entry process. Peggy is a passionate woman. She loves helping others and she loves her work. A member of Canaan Baptist who attends worship regularly, Peggy is an inspiration and a joy to work with.
BF: Have you had any emotional experiences during your time at FLC? 
KT: I can’t say I have had any overly emotional experiences. I do not work directly with the women in the Sisters Returning Home program, but it has been a lot of fun and I look forward to going there every week. I find the work I’m doing to be fulfilling and I like knowing that I am able to make such a positive impact on the organization.

For more information about the FLC, check out this. Click the circles below to look at stills from around the FLC, taken by Amanda Johncola on her iPhone 5.

Refusing to Desert Lasallian Values: La Salle’s Exploring Nutrition Initiative

Before coming to college, I thought the word desert referred to hot, dry, barren lands where you had fantasies of water and ice cold lemonade. I learned soon after arriving at La Salle that there was this thing called a food desert and not long before I arrived, the area around La Salle was actually classified as one.

Mari Gallagher presenting at TEDxWindyCity.

Mari Gallagher presenting at TEDxWindyCity.

According to this incredible Tedx Talk, a food desert is a large, isolated geographic area that have no or distant mainstream grocery stores. Mari Gallagher, the leader of that particular talk about food deserts, notes how 9-year olds she met in Alabama has never seen grapes or strawberries before. Can you imagine? I can think of so many other fruits that are far more exotic and rare.

The same sort of issue- perhaps not as drastic- was occurring in the area around La Salle. Finally, the University realized that in order to stay true to the values of the Christian Brothers, they had to step in. With the help of La Salle’s program, Exploring Nutrition, the surrounding community has seen vast improvements in the availability of fresh produce, meat, and opportunities for nutrition education. La Salle was the main driving force behind the introduction of the Fresh Grocer to the area and since then, Exploring Nutrition has been pressing even further into the issue of health and nutrition in urban areas. They’ve partnered not only with Fresh Grocer, but local businesses and churches, to provide the resources, education and awareness needed to push families to a more healthy lifestyle.

The inclusion of education programs is undeniably important. Check out this NPR radio piece to understand why. As the old saying goes, you can lead the horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. You can build a grocery store lined with fresh produce, but if the consumers don’t know how to prepare them or why they need to include them in their diet, the demand slips. You can’t force people to purchase healthy items. Exploring Nutrition’s educational and awareness proponents try to bridge this gap and create that demand.

The best part, in my opinion, about this initiative is the way the leadership (spearheaded by Dr. Marjorie Allen) is involving students. They’re taking advantage of all of the resources on campus to help the community. Why enlist professionals to create promotional materials when you have digital art, marketing, and journalism students who are looking for resume worthy experience? It gets the students involved in something that can add credibility to their portfolios and resumes, but it also shows them ways to participate in charity that are outside of the typical picking up trash, donating clothing, working at a homeless shelter, and so on. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

There are, however, researchers who negate the effect of food deserts on the health of individuals living in poverty, claiming the stressors of living in poverty are actually to blame. The evidence is there all right, but, in all honesty, when is providing people with healthier food options ever a bad thing?