Partners for everyday health

Sarah Hopkins (right) and Tanya Thompson, members of UWM’s student group Local to Global, discuss healthy eating on a budget with neighbors gathered at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church. (Photos by Troye Fox)

“How can I eat healthier with the food I’m getting from the food pantry?”

“What foods can I get on my limited budget that are okay for diabetes?”

“How can I cook greens in a healthy way?”

Those were among the questions posed to University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee students during a recent presentation at a food pantry run by Central City Churches Inc.

The July workshop on eating healthy on a budget was the first in a series of educational sessions called the Everyday Health Program. Local to Global: Creating Healthier Communities, a UWM student organization, will present the sessions in collaboration with the churches’ Outreach Ministry. (Central City Churches is a coalition of eight churches on or near Wisconsin Avenue).

Local to Global members and UWM students Sarah Hopkins (center) and Tonya Thompson (right) at the food pantry with Alicia Ellis, director of the outreach ministry for Central City Churches.

The project is funded through a CUP (Community Urban Partnerships) grant from the university’s Cultures and Communities program.

“We are one of only two student-run partnerships that have ever been funded through a CUP grant,” says Sarah Hopkins, a student in the Master of Nursing Direct Entry program, and president and founder of Local to Global.

Fighting health disparities

The group includes UWM students – ranging from first-year to graduate-level – from seven disciplines, and also is open to community members. Local to Global is modeled on the Timmy Global Health project, according to Hopkins. Timmy Global Health is an organization that empowers high school and college students to work in partnership with community organizations to raise funds, advocate and serve in an effort to fight health disparities in their own communities and abroad.

Local to Global started in spring 2013, with the focus on raising awareness about social determinants of health both globally and locally, according to Hopkins. The organization has already been part of many off-campus events providing health information and blood pressure screenings to the Milwaukee community. Local to Global currently has 25 members who volunteer at 10 organizations in the Milwaukee area, Hopkins notes.

“The feedback we got from our neighbors after the first session was very positive,” says Alicia Ellis, director of Central City Churches Outreach Ministry. A number mentioned how helpful it was to learn more about reading nutrition labels, she adds, “and they really got a kick out of the discussion on how to cook greens in a healthy way.”

The churches run a food pantry four mornings a week, open to those in need in the surrounding neighborhoods. When the office secretary received a flyer about the CUP grants, says Ellis, she saw an opportunity to provide health information to those gathered for the food pantry, which is hosted by Our Savior’s Lutheran Church.

Small grant, big impact

Emily Spanjers, who worked with the churches as part of the Lutheran Volunteer Corps, researched student groups at UWM that might be willing to collaborate, and made the initial email contact. After connecting with Local to Global, Spanjers wrote the grant application with input from Hopkins. The grant was the only fully funded grant through CUP this year.

Hopkins and Thompson prepare for a presentation to neighbors at the food pantry.

“That’s unusual,” says Hopkins. “It’s only a small amount, but one that will help us have big impact.”

“The program seems to be a great fit for both organizations,” she adds, “while providing free health information to the residents of the surrounding area.” The student organization and the churches are hoping to continue their partnership in the future, according to Hopkins.

For their first presentation, Hopkins and Tanya Thompson, also a nursing major and a member of Local to Global, set up posters and food samples, talked about healthy eating, provided handouts and answered lots of questions. They also brought healthy snacks to share.

Neighbors coming to the food pantry joined them in a church gathering room, close enough that they could hear when their number was called to pick up a bag of food from the pantry.

“It’s wonderful that they can come here to share the gift of their knowledge with us,” says Ellis, “and it gave the neighbors a nice way to come together with each other also.”

Future Everyday Health Programs will focus on:

  • Diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol and how they are related
  • Easy exercise
  • Dental health
  • Successful aging
  • Stress management