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A Recipe for Hunger

Life-saving food, with a dash of life-saving education

Even though she’s offering samples of freshly prepared food, Melissa Moreno meets some hesitance as she visits with the folks waiting for groceries at the Food Bank of Northern Nevada’s mobile unit, called Mobile Harvest. One day it’s spaghetti squash that sparks dismay. Another day it’s a kale and bulgur salad. What’s bulgur? people ask her.

Moreno, a bilingual nutrition educator, is undeterred. “It just takes one person to say it’s okay,” she laughs. “Then people try it.”

The Mobile Harvest program, which received a grant from the McGowan Fund for its work in Reno, brings fresh produce, dairy, and protein to low-income neighborhoods across northern Nevada. As a bilingual nutrition educator, Moreno offers nutrition tips, recipes, and lessons on food labels, portion control, and healthy cooking, as well as the taste tests.

The need is significant. Today, more than one in four children in Washoe County, where Reno is located, misses meals. When the stock market crashed and foreclosures mounted in 2008, the food bank delivered 15 million pounds of food; in 2015, the bank delivered between 13 and 14 million, which is lower, but still worrisome. “This has gone from emergency to chronic,” Cherie Jamason, the food bank’s CEO, says. Looking back over her 28 years with the organization, she adds, “Hunger is worse than it used to be.”

Hunger is also just one symptom of a larger problem—poverty. In 2014, nearly 15 percent of Reno households brought in less than $22,020. Parents are working multiple jobs without benefits or wage hikes, and many people aren’t aware of services and options. Accordingly, Mobile Harvest often brings along experts and partners, offering Medicaid outreach, information on the SNAP (food stamp) program, back-to-school immunizations, flu shots, and even dental care. “You have to be creative if your goal is to make people’s lives better,” says Jamason. Plus, she adds, “People have enough lines to stand in.”