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Report: SNAP-Ed Provided Critical Nutrition Support during the COVID-19 Pandemic

PHI’s Center for Wellness and Nutrition assessed SNAP-Ed Policy, Systems, and Environmental (PSE) changes implemented by SNAP-Ed programming in the Southeast Region implementing agencies (SER IAs) during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

woman smiling in garden

The USDA’s SNAP-Ed programs provide nutrition education for low-income people across the country. In the first regional study to look at aggregate data of long term Policy, Systems, and Environmental (PSE) indicators for SNAP-Ed, PHI’s Center for Wellness and Nutrition assessed the SNAP-Ed PSE changes implemented by SNAP-Ed programming in the Southeast Region implementing agencies during 2020, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study found that states and implementing agencies were able to quickly and successfully pivot to meet the needs of their communities during the pandemic—reaching more than 1.1 million people with over 1,300 SNAP-Ed PSE changes. Adaptations that proved successful included the development of digital resources, moving education classes online and maintaining and expanding partnerships.

Read the report

Background

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) is the federal nutrition education program of the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service (USDA-FNS) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP-Ed is designed to increase the likelihood that individuals with limited budgets can eat a healthy diet and achieve a physically active lifestyle based on the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services & U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2020) and public health approaches. The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) Southeast Region SNAP-Ed program includes eight states with 25 implementing agencies (IAs) and their partners.

This evaluation of the Southeast Region SNAP-Ed program assessed:

  • SNAP-Ed Policy, Systems and Environmental (PSE) changes implemented throughout the Southeast Region, including medium-term and long-term changes (MT5/MT6 and LT5/LT6)
  • The COVID-19 response in implementing SNAP-Ed programming in the Southeast Region (SER)

Methods

Medium-term and long-term PSE changes were reported by the SER IAs using a Microsoft Excel template or through a data export from the Program Evaluation and Reporting System (PEARS). Descriptive analyses were conducted to calculate the number of PSE changes and the reach of those changes. IAs reported how they have adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic via a SurveyMonkey questionnaire. Descriptive analyses of this data were also conducted.

man holding foodshare box

Success Story: Adaptations Made to Foodshare, A SNAP-Ed Toolkit Intervention, During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Emergency

FoodShare, developed in South Carolina, is a program rooted in the belief that access to fresh, affordable food should not be limited by where you live or how much you make. The program aims to improve food security and produce consumption through a once or twice monthly bulk produce box available via community locations. Boxes include healthy recipe cards to inspire clients to try something new with the produce that is distributed each month.

Boxes can be purchased with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits or cash. FoodShare also participates in the state’s SNAP healthy incentive program, making SNAP boxes $10 less for SNAP recipients. In 2019, FoodShare was accepted for inclusion in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education Toolkit as an emerging evidence-based intervention.

During COVID-19, adaptations were made among FoodShare partners in six counties that ensured the continued operation and expansion of the program to help address the increased food insecurity experienced around the state. A SNAP-Ed implementer provided consultation and technical assistance on how to make the adaptations. These strategies primarily included: 1) having a drive-thru option for customers to pick up their boxes, 2) increasing the number of produce box pick up days in a month, 3) limiting the number of volunteers, 4) requiring masks and gloves were worn by staff and volunteers, and 5) expanding the space for sorting the bulk produce and
packing the boxes.

During coronavirus (COVID-19), adaptations were made among FoodShare partners in six counties that ensured the continued operation and expansion of the program to help address the increased food insecurity experienced around the state. A SNAP-Ed implementer provided consultation and technical assistance on how to make the adaptations. These strategies primarily included: 1) having a drive-thru option for customers to pick up their boxes, 2) increasing the number of produce box pick up days in a month, 3) limiting the number of volunteers, 4) requiring masks and gloves were worn by staff and volunteers, and 5) expanding the space for sorting the bulk produce and packing the boxes. Partners experienced a significant increase in the number of customers and a broader recognition of the importance and need for the program among community stakeholders. During COVID-19, 7,278 unique customers were reached through 37,829 produce boxes.

Results

IAs reported a total of 1,359 PSE changes across 7 states with a combined reach of 1,161,289. Of those changes, there were 108 (7.9%) policy changes, 602 (44.3%) systems changes, and 649 (47.8%) environmental changes. For long-term PSE changes, a total of 666 sites (91%) reported a multicomponent intervention with their PSE nutrition change and a total of 194 sites (97%) reported a multicomponent intervention with their PSE physical activity change. Also, all IAs reported adaptations to their SNAP-Ed programming based on COVID, which included partnering with 12,188 new or existing partners to implement direct education, PSE changes, and social marketing programs and moving direct and indirect education materials online.

Conclusion

In 2020, states and IAs were able to quickly pivot to meet the needs of their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, reaching more than 1.1 million people with PSE changes. Adaptations that proved successful included the development of digital resources, moving education classes online and maintaining and expanding partnerships.

two people gardening

Success Story: Pivoting to Increase Food Access During the Pandemic

The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Nutrition Education Program works with clients across Kentucky every year to provide materials, supplies, and expertise for growing gardens at community sites, public schools, recovery centers, and family plots. Their efforts reimagined, they addressed increasing food insecurity related to stay-at-home orders, higher unemployment rates, and grocery shortages due to the pandemic. A new project, and materials, were developed to address this crisis through the Victory Garden campaign and “Growing Your Own” publications. This campaign provided needed supplies and education to help families grow their food at home.

Nutrition Education Program Assistants, often working side-by-side with other Cooperative Extension Agents, provided gardening supplies, tools, seeds, and instructional materials via mail, porch delivery, or Grab-and-Go bags distributed at County Extension offices. Community partners, such as farmers’ markets and
food pantries, also helped with distribution.

Gardening provides many benefits beyond nutrient-rich garden-fresh produce and physical activity. It also provides a sense of control and self-sufficiency during these difficult times. Since June 2020, an estimated 17,086 gardening supplies and materials have been distributed.

Clients and Nutrition Education Program Assistants received a survey to determine the impact of the gardening efforts. According to survey results, 256 family gardens were grown during the summer of 2020. Almost half (45%) of the gardens reported this year were grown by first-time gardeners. More than 1,050 bushels of garden produce were grown during that summer. Over half (65%) of survey respondents reported that gardening had helped them spend less on their family’s food. Some clients also extended their food security by canning, freezing, and drying their produce. They reported preserving over 3,420 quarts.


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