Increasing Nutritional Literacy of Birmingham Communities During The Pandemic

2020 ASF Fellow Katie Ellison first learned of her future site partner, Cooking Well, through her colleagues. The more she learned about the Birmingham-area nonprofit’s work, the more she wanted them as her community site partner. Additionally, Katie would be the second Alabama Schweitzer Fellow to work with the organization within the past two years. Cooking Well aims to empower individuals and families through their workshops and demonstrations to strengthen nutritional habits and practices. Katie knew her experience as a registered dietitian (RD) could greatly benefit Cooking Well’s work. 

Decreasing Nutritional Barriers

In addition to assisting with Cooking Well’s classes and workshops, Katie developed the “Next Steps” program that intends to build upon nutritional knowledge already learned by those who graduated from Cooking Well’s original nutrition course, including how nutrition quality affects the development of chronic disease. Katie also coordinated a partnership with the Village Market, a Birmingham-area grocery store, and the UAB Grand Challenge’s Live HealthSmart initiative to provide discounts on nutritional foods within the store for all store patrons, including Cooking Well participants. Katie and the rest of her team identified which foods to discount through researching the Village Market’s inventory and finding which products should be purchased more based on nutritional value. Following the completion of her Fellowship, Katie anticipates using the data from this shopping initiative as research to further expand the program into grocery stores across Birmingham and other parts of the state. 

2020 ASF Fellow Katie Ellison speaking into a microphone in front of Village Market, located in the East Lake neighborhood of Birmingham.
2020 ASF Fellow Katie Ellison being interviewed earlier this year by a local news station in front of Village Market, located in the East Lake neighborhood of Birmingham.

Triumphs, Challenges, and Lessons Learned 

Katie has been able to apply her knowledge gained from her project about the social determinants of health among marginalized communities to her graduate work at the UAB School of Health Professions. “There are unique challenges that these groups face with chronic disease prevention and management and my project has illuminated these barriers”, she added. Using her nutritional knowledge gained from her graduate training, she built her “Next Steps” course for Cooking Well using her experience as an RD and from her graduate studies. Also, the public speaking skills learned during her graduate training have helped her with the project significantly. Katie’s greatest project triumph was launching the Village Market initiative after months of coordinating and planning with team members and stakeholders. Her biggest project challenge was adapting her courses into a virtual format due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Katie was aware of the possible decrease in participants attending the online version of her courses due to no or weak internet access. She hopes that their sessions will return to an in-person format later this year.

Katie hopes that the participants will use the skills learned for years to come, leading to healthier shopping choices, improved nutritional habits, and a decreased risk for chronic disease.