First Posted: 9/27/2014
One out of every five children in America suffers from food insecurity, according to Feeding America, a domestic hunger-relief charity. And the numbers are even more dismal in Luzerne County, where one in every four children is food insecure, according to local dietitian, author and community volunteer Clancy Cash Harrison, MS, RD, LND.
“It’s sad that there are so many children who don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” the Dallas resident said. “That breaks my heart.”
Which is why, when the minister at her place of worship, Church of Christ Uniting in Kingston, announced the need for someone to step up as president of the Al Beech West Side Food Pantry last summer, Harrison volunteered.
“I joined the food pantry because I believe in giving back to the community,” she said. “As a Registered Dietitian, I have always had a passion for child nutrition and food insecurity. I jumped head first into the most rewarding job (volunteer) of my professional career. Not only do I have the privilege to make a difference with something close to my heart, but I have been given something so much more – an opportunity to teach my children about charity, humility, empathy and love, an offer I could not refuse.”
Harrison’s volunteer efforts were recently recognized by Nextdoor, a private online social network for neighborhoods, when she was nominated for the organization’s Good Neighbor Award, winning the grand prize of $2,000 for her charity.
She plans to use the funds to build a community garden on the grounds of her church where the food pantry is housed. She said the church already approved the plan, and the Wyoming Valley Montessori School District agreed to write the garden in to its curriculum.
The community garden is to help fight childhood hunger and obesity, while also providing district students an opportunity for student-led gardening projects, environmental awareness and food sustainability education. Harrison’s long-term vision for the project is for it to become a sustainable source of fresh produce for the food pantry, as well as the Head Start and Meals on Wheels programs, housed at the same location.
One of her biggest challenges as president of the Al Beech West Side Food Pantry is the recruitment of volunteers, especially those from the younger population, for whom her passion burns brightest. She is thankful to have two interns from The University of Scranton to help manage the garden.
“I want to inspire the youth to make their best better,” she said, adding that volunteers, whether youth or adults, are also building their resumes at the same time.
“Volunteering is not just collecting and giving out food,” she said. “If a student aspires to write, I will help her write press releases and articles on our great projects. If a student plays an instrument, I invite him to practice while the clients are picking up their food.
“It is time to think out of the box, work together and join forces to end childhood hunger – a challenge I am ready to face each day until there is no child hungry.”
This passion also led Harrison to teach children about produce this past summer, through a summer feeding program with the Wilkes-Barre YMCA and Fertile Grounds CSA.
“For some of the children,” she said, “it was the first time they had ever seen kale and other fresh vegetables. Each child left with an arm full of produce and a simple recipe of the food they tasted.”
Harrison also reaches out to parents in order to help them help their children, through her blog, www.FieldsofFlavor.com, and her new book, “Feeding Baby,” published by Cedar Fort and released Sept. 13. Labeled as a cookbook, the publication includes baby food recipes, although it is more than that. In it, the author gives advice which can be used by parents of children of all ages to help minimize picky eating and create a lifetime of healthy eating habits.
A book signing will be held at 7 p.m. on Oct. 15 at Barnes and Noble, Arena Hub Plaza, Wilkes-Barre, with prizes and giveaways.
Married to David Harrison, Harrison is the stay-at-home mother of two children. Her advice to other busy parents who would like to volunteer in their community but have difficulty finding the time is to allow the children to help alongside them.
“As a busy mother,” she said, “I balance my schedule and valuable time with my children by including them in the process. My children are often found next to me at the food pantry. They help with food sorting, food packing, cooking demonstrations and food distribution. We even schedule play dates at the pantry with children ages 3 and older full of charity and giving back.”
Anyone interested in volunteering at the Al Beech West Side Food Pantry and/or community garden or joining a play date, may contact Harrison at firstname.lastname@example.org.