Getting More out of Giving Back

Last spring, a small group of Northern Illinois University dietetic interns and I took the classroom on the road to the Northern Illinois Food Bank (NIFB). The original plan was to tour the facility and meet with registered dietitian Kelly Brasseur to discuss her role with the organization. As a somewhat last minute decision, we decided to spend the morning volunteering before we got down to business with Kelly.

As we filled out our forms, a nervous energy surrounded our small group as we didn’t know what to expect. The orientation gave us great insight into the enormous role the NIFB plays with our hungry neighbors and that nervous energy turned into excitement. Our excitement turned to amazement as we did our part to help NIFB provide food to people throughout the 13 counties they serve.

As we hit the volunteering floor, we were greeted with pallets and pallets of potatoes. The task of bagging all of these potatoes seemed daunting, but as the morning passed, we not only packed 1,100 pounds of potatoes, but we also shared stories, bonded over similar experiences and laughed a lot. In the end, we learned so much more than just the role of the registered dietitian at a food bank. We learned how NIFB feeds over 500,000 hungry people and provides services to people to help them “get back on their feet,” and our students learned how they can make an impact in their community.

“I thought volunteering at the food bank was really fun,” said Megan Reuter, a dietetic intern. “I got to spend quality time with good people having good conversations, all while helping my community. It felt really great to give back and I would love to go volunteer again!”

As future registered dietitians, they now have insight into food insecurity and how it can affect people’s ability to follow dietary advice – from simple messages around MyPlate to more complex discussions around medical nutrition therapy such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

As the season of helping is upon us, I plan to bring my next group of interns to NIFB for a morning of volunteering and bonding – especially knowing how much the last group enjoyed the experience:

“The NIFB is a great way for volunteers to spread the word about hunger and to help out their community,” said dietetic intern Lindsay Schroeder.

The value of this experience will ensure this outing becomes an NIU Dietetic Internship tradition. We encourage everyone to raise your hand and volunteer at your local food bank or food pantry. It’s a great way to help provide food to people in your community, especially this time of year! Share your story online by using the hashtag #helpie.

Nancy Prange