For Laura Kruskall, addressing food insecurity and improving the nutritional health of community members is much more than a passion project.
Kruskall, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, is dedicated to tackling food insecurity and committed to developing the next generation of nutrition experts – all while improving the health of our community.
And, this is exactly what Kruskall set out to do.
Food insecurity, which is the condition of not having access to sufficient food or food of an adequate quality to meet one's basic needs, directly correlates with student success, retention, and overall health and wellness in higher education. Food-insecure individuals are susceptible to developing malnutrition and other nutrition-related chronic diseases, particularly hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.
In most cases, food insecurity is a result of financial pressures and/or lack of knowledge of healthy food choices. Helping individuals overcome these barriers can be an effective way to combat food insecurity.
With the primary goals of addressing food insecurity, improving the nutritional health of members of the UNLV and Las Vegas communities, and increasing supervised practice opportunities for UNLV dietetics students, Kruskall’s team obtained funding and created a sustainable three-pronged partnership between the UNLV Nutrition Center, the UNLV Food Pantry, and Three-Square Food Bank.
The UNLV Nutrition Center serves the campus and Las Vegas community by promoting health and wellness, and preventing and managing chronic disease through sound nutrition. The UNLV Food Pantry is a year-round resource that provides perishable and non-perishable food items to students, staff, and faculty who need additional support.
By partnering together, these two campus resources began serving as a community resource capable of not only distributing food, but also creating a variety of educational materials, including handouts, videos, and recipe cards.
Kruskall also implemented the Supporting Wellness at Pantries (SWAP) stoplight nutrition system to help promote healthy food choices by clients of the pantry and to encourage individuals to donate healthier foods to the pantry.
But, Kruskall didn’t stop there.
The COVID-19 pandemic drastically increased demand for food across the Southern Nevada community and Three Square Food Bank was desperately in need of help with food distribution and nutrition education.
Kruskall was able to connect UNLV dietetic students from the nutrition center and the food pantry with Three Square to assist with the challenge. Students not only assisted with food processing and distribution, but also with the creation and delivery of nutrition education materials. Nearly 3,000 households benefited from their work.
Kruskall also secured two grants to enhance educational services being provided by the UNLV Nutrition Center and to help the UNLV Food Pantry provide safe and efficient food storage and distribution.
Improvements were made to the food pantry’s facilities, including new refrigeration, food-preparation areas, and educational infrastructure, creating a desirable and convenient resource for those who need nutritious food and knowledge about how to prepare it within a fixed budget.
Three Square Food Bank’s call center was also enhanced allowing UNLV students to expand nutrition education services to patients with renal disease.
The partnership between Three Square Food Bank, the UNLV Nutrition Center, and the UNLV Food Pantry has resulted in providing services to almost 3,000 households and continued even after the urgent pandemic-driven needs subsided.
UNLV students are now able to complete supervised practice hours at the nutrition center, the food pantry, and Three Square Food Bank as part of their Dietetic Internship program, and members of the UNLV Student Nutrition and Dietetic Association can officially serve as volunteers at all three partner sites.
“Under Dr. Kruskall's leadership, the pantry and education model has become the gold standard amongst our agency partners in both addressing food insecurity and chronic disease prevention in high-risk populations. Dr. Kruskall's determination to help solve hunger and address negative health outcomes through a commitment to community engagement makes her an excellent nominee for the Office of Community Engagement 2022 Award,” said Lisa Segler, Director of Strategic Initiatives at Three Square Food Bank.
Kruskall’s passion resulted in a sustainable process that will allow for the creation of additional educational materials for visitors to the nutrition center and food pantry, and to provide valuable training for students preparing for careers combating food insecurity.
The UNLV office of community engagement administers four university-wide awards each academic year to recognize campus individuals for their exceptional community engagement in the areas of service learning, community-based research, faculty/staff community outreach, and student service.