Community Involvement in Nome
I applied for this Summercise internship for three reasons. The first reason was the opportunity to work with kids to help them develop healthy nutrition and physical activity habits at a young age. The second reason was the chance to travel to Alaska and work with a unique minority and native population. The final reason was written in fine print under the official job description and read, “Interns will be responsible for other various assigned opportunities throughout the community.” I had no idea that those “various assigned opportunities” would allow me to reach thousands of people on the radio as well as help feed hungry families in the community.
Recently, I was able to do community outreach work through the local radio station, 96.1 KNOM. With the population dispersed throughout so many villages, the radio is an effective way to reach and educate thousands of people. A fellow intern and I casually bantered with the radio DJ about the “Build Your Own Breakfast Burritos” we brought in for the Breakfast Tuesday radio segment. The versatility of burritos makes them a great breakfast option to make out in the villages as well.
“Don’t have tomatoes? Throw in a jar of salsa! No ham cubes? Toss in some leftover reindeer sausage!” I emphasized that a variety of ingredients, especially colorful ingredients, ensures a variety of nutrients! We had a total of 10 KNOM radio listeners stop into the station to build a burrito using the tortillas, scrambled eggs, sour cream, cheddar cheese, diced ham, tomatoes, onions, peppers and jalapenos that we brought in!
Afterwards, I recorded a public service announcement (PSA) that will cycle on air throughout the year. I discussed the importance of vitamin D on heart health, preventing certain cancers and absorbing calcium to maintain strong bones and teeth. People living in Nome and the Norton Sound region of Alaska are physically unable to absorb vitamin D from the sun due to the region’s geographical location. Luckily, many native foods are rich in vitamin D including salmon, seal and walrus. Of course, vitamin D can also be found in fortified foods such as milk and cereals at the local store. The radio DJ complemented how I emphasized my thick Minnesotan accent on air. I smiled and decided not to tell her that this is just my normal intonation!
Another component of my internship is a week long rotation of “Summer Lunch” with the Boys and Girls Club (BGC) of Nome. With limited activities available in this isolated town, many youth turn to alcohol and tobacco at an early age. BGC gives kids a fun, positive place to put their energy for five days of the week. This BGC is free of charge and is funded completely through grants and donations.
Summer Lunch is a recently renovated program offering a free lunch to any community youth, ages 1-18, from June through August. This is the first year that the BGC is offering homemade meals rather than serving a prepackaged lunches flown in from Anchorage. By making meals from scratch, not only are ample amounts of plastic and trash eliminated, we are also better able to control the nutrient content – particularly sodium which was overly abundant in the prepackaged lunches. Since the program is government funded, all meals must follow appropriate USDA nutrition standards for nutrients and portion sizes. I have taken plenty of food service classes at UW-Stevens Point, and I confidently prepared delicious lunches for the kids. Plus, with the hairnet and apron, I finally felt like the lunch lady my parents have envisioned!
If there is one thing I have learned from my Summer Lunch rotation, other than how to create and test standardized recipes while following USDA regulations, it is how to sneak vegetables into kids’ food. Whether it is shredding carrots to look like cheese in a quesadilla or sauteing spinach into the spaghetti sauce, the kids devoured their plates and were consuming their recommended intake of vegetables!
Every Tuesday and Thursday after Summercise, I volunteer at the Nome Food Bank. This has no correlation with my internship, but our director encouraged us to seek out additional opportunities to get the most out of our experience here in Nome. As I have mentioned, the food prices in Nome are outrageous, and not everyone can compensate for it. Those requiring the services of the food bank are not required to bring in any sort of proof of income level, residency or family size, as the food bank is operated entirely on the honor system. Patrons may visit twice per month, receiving a commodity bag from the state of Alaska on the first visit, and community donated items on the second visit. Since the number of visits per month is the only monitored part of the system, I wondered if the system was ever abused. After observing patrons for a few weeks, I can attest that I did not see anyone over stuffing their bags, as the shelves are often sparsely stocked as it is. From my brief stay in Nome, I can tell you that most people in this community have a strong sense of pride. If people are willing to come to a place for help, then they must truly need it.
Even though the majority of Nome is living below the poverty line, many community members and local grocers are fairly consistent in their donations. Recently the food bank was notified that it would be receiving a large donation of musk ox meat, since one was killed by a police officer after it mauled a dog. The word around town is that the officer shot and hit the musk ox 14 times before it dropped! While it is unfortunate that the musk ox had to be killed, I was happy to hear that the meat would not be wasted!
For many patrons, the food shelf is their only source of food and the items can become monotonous very quickly. A few weeks ago, Hansen’s (the local grocery store) donated an entire pallet of boxed stuffing. Recently, I created a sign that advertised various other ways to use the stuffing, such as adding it to meatloaf, meatballs, macaroni and cheese and using the unseasoned stuffing for bread pudding. Hopefully it helps it move off the shelves before it goes bad! Once a week, another volunteer makes a meal solely from ingredients available at the food shelf. She brings in recipe cards and samples for patrons to taste. This is another very effective way to encourage patrons to get creative with some of the available items!
The various opportunities, both assigned and unassigned, outside of my Summercise internship have allowed me to take a deeper look into Nome. While substance abuse and poverty are especially pervasive here, the town continues to impress me with its culture, character and strong sense of community!