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Good move, WVS (07/30/2006)
By Frances Edstrom

A story in today's paper tells of Winona Volunteer Services' move to new quarters on East Second Street. A prime motivator for the move was the desire to improve the organization's delivery of food to those in need.

Quite a while ago, I drove past Volunteer Services' office, and spied director Sandra Burke going into the building. I remembered a couple of things I wanted to talk to her about, so pulled over and ran in to catch her. In her office were the blueprints for the new facility, so we talked for a bit about the plans.

Burke's enthusiasm for the job, and for improving the way the organization delivers services, is palpable. You can hear it in her voice and see it in her eyes.

One of Burke's challenges in the Food Shelf operation, she was saying, is to get people to make food choices that are good for them. But there are several roadblocks, mostly cultural.

You know how difficult it is to approach food from another culture for the first time, and I'm not talking about pizza. It can even happen when you travel to another part of the U.S. The first time I saw a trayful of crawfish dumped unceremoniously on an impromptu tablecloth made of yesterday's Houma, Louisiana, newspaper, I took a look at those beady little eyes and long feelers (on the crawfish " the waitress is another story altogether) and wondered if perhaps the oyster po' boy (whatever that was!) might have been the safer order.

Even knowing this about myself, though, I hadn't translated it into the experience that newcomers to Winona, Minnesota, might have. So when I was standing in line at the supermarket checkout one day, I was startled to have the woman behind me notice the fresh mushrooms I had just plopped on the counter and ask what they were and what did I do with them.

But unfamiliarity with fresh foods is not only an immigrant problem. It is quickly becoming a widespread cultural problem in the entire country. It may be partly responsible for the "obesity epidemic" that the media tells us about.

It's been a long time in the U.S. since the majority of women stayed at home with a pot going on the stove all day long and served their families three hot meals a day. I remember in the eighties reading stories about women who "could do it all" " have a job, a clean house and a well-fed family (not to mention having a happy marriage) and wondered where I'd gone wrong. It seemed to me that my job pretty much wore me out, and if I cooked one really good meal a week I thought I'd done pretty well. The rest of the time we went the quick and easy route, usually pasta and stir-fry dishes, which often relied heavily on prepackaged foods. A salad and fruit would be our concession to fresh foods.

Well, that was twenty years ago, and in that twenty years a lot of men and women have grown up thinking that all food comes in packages or from the drive-through. There are always those who love to cook, and find their way to healthy foods, but as a nation, we are a fast-food bunch.

Sandra Burke and Volunteer Services would like to be at the cutting edge of reversing that trend, through education about fresh foods, nutrition and easy recipes. Sandra said that it is painful to see people come in and walk by the fresh produce to get to the packaged food, and she's hoping the new facility and education opportunities will draw people to a healthier life for them and their children.

Thanks, Sandra and WVS, for helping Winona help newcomers and those less fortunate. 


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