There are a plethora of government programs that provide food and nutrition assistance to those in need. WIC, SNAP, and Meals on Wheels are all popular examples of this. One less-known example is the Expanded Food & Nutrition Education Program, aka EFNEP.
What is it?
EFNEP is a federal agency under the USDA, specifically under the Cooperative State Research, Education, & Extension Service (CSREES). It was started in 1965, a time where there were strong pushes for social reform and an established link between malnutrition and poverty. They serve all fifty states and territories (American Samoa, Guam, Micronesia, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, & the Virgin Islands), and their goal is to empower low-income individuals and families with the knowledge, skills, and desire to adopt and maintain a nutritious diet.
How does it work?
EFNEP works by receiving federal and state/ local government aid. County extension family and consumer science professionals (often a person with the degree – like an RD) are EFNEP coordinators. They will train peer educators (paraprofessionals) and volunteers to teach EFNEP. These paraprofessionals & volunteers often live in the community in which they serve, making it convenient to recruit and receive referrals for families within the community. EFNEP divisions receive referrals from local schools and businesses, non-profit and faith-based organizations, and local SNAP and WIC offices.
Paraprofessionals can in a variety of methods: group, one-to-one situations, by mail, telephone, and mass media. They are set on developing understanding, awareness, and involvement in the educational program. There are adult and youth EFNEP programs; the adult EFNEP is a series of ~10-12 classes on better food choices, food safety/ storage, cooking skills, physical activity, and managing budget. The youth program mirrors the topics the adults have, but is presented in a more age-appropriate fashion.
How does it relate to RDs and/or nutrition students?
RDs are most often EFNEP coordinators – they have the responsibility of a particular region, setting up community programs, and training paraprofessionals. You do not have to be an RD to become an EFNEP coordinator, but you will most likely need a related degree.
Students: can use EFNEP for informational/ counseling resources as well as contact local coordinator if interested in becoming a paraprofessional.
I admire the program because they empower individuals by teaching life skills. When you teach someone to live more efficiently, it is one less thing to worry about and enables them to pursue other interests.