By Jason Reagan, Dietetic Intern, Department of State Hospitals – Atascadero
I remember being filled with both excitement and nervousness as I made my way to the SLO Food Bank Coalition. On the drive there, I recall thinking to myself, “This is it, I finally made it!” This was my final community rotation of the 10-month long, Department of State Hospitals – Atascadero Dietetic Internship. A journey that has been stressful, overwhelming at times and challenging, but fulfilling all at the same time. As I walked through the front doors of the Food Bank, I was greeted with a warm and welcoming smile. My preceptor, Melissa Danehey, was patiently waiting at the front desk ready to begin our first day.
Going into this rotation, I did not expect to have as much fun as I did. Our first week together, Melissa took me on a tour of the facility, introduced me to all of the amazing staff, explained her day-to-day duties, talked about all the services and programs the Food Bank has to offer, and briefly discussed potential intern experiences. We quickly jumped right into things with distribution site visits, where we ran nutrition booths, offered fun nutrition-related information and featured a themed food recipe for participants to taste; participated in outreach programs at local elementary schools where we hosted Children’s Farmers Markets or taught a nutrition lesson; and experimented with new recipes for our nutrition booths.
M favorite activity by far during my first week was the Children’s Farmers Market. The purpose of it is to introduce the concept to the children at an early age, give them the opportunity to select which fruits and vegetables they would like to take home and introduce a new variety of produce to them. The Children’s Farmers Market also simulates an actual market setting by allowing children to visit different stands and have them “purchase” produce with their play money. My favorite part about this experience was the interactions I had with the children. I had the opportunity to host a “Mystery Box” event at the Children’s Farmers Market. In this activity, I concealed a random fruit or vegetable inside a closed box and only allowed the children to use their hands to feel the item from within the box. The children then had to guess what the item was based on what they felt to win a prize. When this activity was announced, the children’s faces just lit up – they loved this activity! It was actually a challenge keeping all of the children in order and explaining and enforcing the rules of the game so that it wasn’t ruined for the others. At the end of the day, I left the school feeling appreciated and satisfied with the work I completed.
When I had the opportunity to work more independently, I was able to explore more opportunities in the community on my own. Some of the opportunities I experienced included a ride-along during home deliveries, participation in the rescue of over 700 lbs of produce with GleanSLO and hosting a nutrition booth at distribution site at the AG Care Center with a volunteer. I distinctly remember the AG Care Center distribution site because this was where I was trying to get two young children (between the ages of 7-10) to taste eggplant, which they’ve never eaten before in their life. The two children were at the distribution site with their parents when I offered each of them a sample of my tasty Asian-style eggplant. The two parents said they would eat the sample, but their children would never touch eggplant – challenge accepted! After a little convincing and negotiating, the two children each agreed to try the eggplant and actually enjoyed it – success! This was one of my most rewarding experiences.
The best part about working in a community setting, is the immediate feeling of gratification after a job well done. It was so rewarding at the end of the day, after working with various age groups, from children to adults and even seniors, to know that you made an impact or positively influenced them in some way. What made my internship even more rewarding was having an amazing, compassionate, and driven preceptor, who clearly has a passion for community-nutrition. It was an honor to be a team member of the SLO Food Bank in this short, but pleasant 3-week endeavor!