Grant renewed

by Amy Olson

Georgina Jerricks knows what her students go through as teenage mothers trying to make ends meet.
The nutrition educator had her first baby when she was 17. Now more than 40 years later, she uses that experience when teaching young mothers how to feed their children healthy meals through the food stamp nutrition education program run through the University’s extension service office in Hennepin County.
“They call me ‘G-mama,'” Jerricks said. “When I see them two or three years later and they call me that, I know I’ve gotten through to them.”
Jerricks and fellow nutrition educator Linda Fifield teach adolescent mothers in the Minneapolis school district’s alternative education programs how to prepare healthy meals and get the most out of their food stamp money.
The nutrition program is one of the largest programs in the country, said Beth Sandell, coordinator for the Families That Work program in the College of Human Ecology. The program administers the food stamp nutrition education program, which is run by extension educators in 80 of 87 Minnesota counties.
Sandell said the Minnesota nutrition program began about seven years ago. This month, the United States Department of Agriculture grant was renewed for about $4 million, bringing the total with other grants and donations to about $8 million for the year. Hennepin County receives $300,000 of that total for its classes.
Bonnie Becker, an administrator for the Minnesota Department of Human Services said households that receive food stamps get an average of $140 per month. In 1998 about 96,300 households received food stamps.
That number is down from a 10-year high of 133,000 in 1994. Becker said the decrease is probably because welfare and food stamp reform now require recipients to hold a job or go through its training program, and because the unemployment rate is low.
Sandell said the goal of the program is to teach food stamp recipients about nutrition, food safety and money management. Lisa Gemlo, the program coordinator in Hennepin County, said the 4,000 residents who have participated in the program have been considered successful if they have been able to change their eating or purchasing habits.
The food stamp programs are administered by each state with federal funding from the Agriculture Department. The department also provides grant money for nutrition education programs like the one in Minnesota.
Sandell said each county tailors its program to the needs of the recipients.
Sara Van Offelen, a nutrition program coordinator who works with 11 counties in northern Minnesota, said educators teach rural residents how to grow vegetables in community gardens and freeze them for later use. Other educators show American Indians who live on two of the reservations in northern Minnesota how to prepare healthy meals using canned meats and vegetables.
Fifield and Jerricks said their courses require intense preparation, using activities and demonstrations to teach their students. When the students come back to class after cooking one of the demonstration recipes at home, Fifield said they know they’ve helped the students change their eating habits.
Gemlo said the classes also teach food stamp recipients how to budget money for food and stretch each dollar to make nutritious meals.
“People are pretty resourceful,” Gemlo said, adding she was impressed with the strides participants make.