Collaboration with libraries extends Kent ISD's SNAP-Ed reach

This article is part of Stories of Change, a series of inspirational articles of the people who deliver evidence-based programs and strategies that empower communities to eat healthy and move more. It is made possible with funding from Michigan Fitness Foundation.

Kent District Library (KDL) patrons can now nourish their minds and their bodies at the library, thanks to a unique collaboration with the Kent Intermediate School District (Kent ISD) and Kentwood Farmers Market.

A retired Kent ISD food service director, Amy Klinkoski spends her time as a nutrition educator for the district. She works as a Farmers Market Food Navigator (FMFN) at the Kentwood Farmers Market to help shoppers better understand how to use their food assistance dollars, such as SNAP and WIC, and plan healthy, affordable meals.

The FMFN program is made possible through Michigan Fitness Foundation (MFF) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) funding. MFF is a State Implementing Agency of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for the education component of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP-Ed is an education program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that teaches people eligible for SNAP how to live healthier lives. MFF offers grants to conduct SNAP-Ed programming throughout the state of Michigan.

The Kentwood Farmers Market happens to be held in the parking lot of one of KDL's branches, the state-of-the-art library facility known as the Richard L. Root Kentwood Branch.

KISD Nutrition Educator Amy Klinkoski at the Kentwood Farmers Market at the Kent District Library's Kentwood branch.
Klinkoski noticed that the library also served as the site where families that receive free or reduced-price lunches were coming to pick up meals at the library during the pandemic. The lunch program for students and neighbors is known as "Library Lunches to Go" and the meals are distributed in partnership with Feeding America West Michigan. The shelf-stable meals help improve access to nutritious food during the summer months. In her FMFN role, Klinkoski saw an opportunity to introduce fresh produce from the market to the families picking up the Library Lunches to Go. She approached KDL to propose a collaboration where she could share the health benefits of fruits and vegetables with the families picking up the Library Lunches to Go, and KDL agreed. Through this collaboration, she began to serve more families, providing them with information about how to use their food assistance benefits at the market, sharing recipes that feature Michigan-grown fruits and vegetables, and offering tastings of those recipes.

Kent ISD offers a variety of SNAP-Ed interventions such as direct education programs at schools in Kent, Ionia, and Montcalm counties and through Policy, Systems, and Environmental Change (PSE) strategies. SNAP-Ed direct education programs and PSE initiatives have the potential to improve community health by making the heathier choice, the easier choice.

Amber Hubbell, Kent ISD regional health coordinator, says Kent ISD "really depends on" Klinkoski to build partnerships to advance community change, like the one she forged with KDL.

"She is there making herself known as a familiar face. Collaborating with KDL was kind of a natural partnership," Hubbell says. "As a retired food service director for the Grand Rapids Public Schools system, Amy is familiar with food service distribution and nutrition. She saw  they were handing out food and took the opportunity to build on that connection."

KISD Nutrition Educator Amy Klinkoski promotes the Kentwood Farmers Market during a summertime lunch pickup at the Kent District Library's Wyoming branch.
Building on the success of her FMFN work, Klinkoski has been meeting with KDL to find ways to bring added value to the library system's scheduled programming and offer other SNAP-Ed programs like Grow it, Try it, Like it and Michigan Harvest of the Month™ at more KDL branches.

"I think libraries are another place where we can be available for folks since they are a community service hub, Klinkoski says. “It just makes sense. This is something else that they can offer to families."

She says the collaboration with KDL creates opportunities for one-on-one conversations with local library patrons about eating more fruits and vegetables.

"Through my SNAP-Ed work, I've met a lot of people who said that my being at the library was enhancing what their children were learning from their SNAP-Ed classes at school," Klinkoski says. "For example, they say things like, 'Oh, yeah. We have that MyPlate poster at home.' I like that I can enhance what we've been doing in the classroom, or I can offer totally new resources for folks outside of school who haven't been exposed to nutrition education."

Hubbell says partnering with the KDL offers Kent ISD the chance to connect with a unique, multi-generational population.

"The library is a safe place for community members. They're familiar with it. We have grandparents, aunts, uncles, moms, and dads bringing little ones to the space," she says. "They're already looking to the amazing services that district libraries offer … and it’s important to meet the community where they are. We can talk directly with families at the library. It’s a great place for us to serve everyone."

KISD Nutrition Educator Amy Klinkoski at the Kentwood Farmers Market at the Kent District Library's Kentwood branch.
Klinkoski also collaborates with Wyoming's Big Top Market through the SNAP-Ed Stock Healthy, Shop Healthy program, a comprehensive, community-based initiative that encourages communities to improve access to healthy, affordable foods by working with small food retailers. An anchor in the community since 1955, the grocery store is known for its huge fresh produce and meat departments and for welcoming neighbors using food assistance dollars. When shoppers taste Klinkoski's recipes, she enjoys seeing them go back through the store to find the healthy ingredients.

Through their SNAP-Ed programs and innovative approach, the Kent ISD SNAP-Ed team is creating a community culture that inspires healthy behaviors.

"We don't want families with limited resources to view the healthy option as being a waste of time and money. So, we work with them to build up knowledge, skills, and confidence that they can go into a store, buy fruits and vegetables, prepare them to taste good, and have their family eat them," Hubbell says.