Dietetic internship program donates organic produce to student food pantry

6 people stand in mulch in a vegetable garden, holding leafy greens
Graduate nutrition students recently donated fresh, campus-grown produce to the university’s student food pantry. Pictured from left: Gina Thurman, director of Student Advocacy; Dr. Lester Pretlow, dean of the College of Allied Health Sciences; Dr. Raymond Chong, chair of the Department of Interdisciplinary Health Sciences; Yasmine Boumenir, president of the Students of Nutrition in Allied Health Club (SNAHC); Tania Naber; vice president of SNAHC; and Sohailla Digsby, registered dietitian and AU nutrition instructor.

Augusta University’s student food pantry, the Open Paws Pantry, has partnered with graduate nutrition students to provide fresh, organic produce to AU students free of charge.

The Master of Science in Allied Health with a Concentration in Nutrition is an accredited MS-dietetic internship (DI) program offered through the College of Allied Health Sciences and The Graduate School. This 21-month program educates students in human nutrition, to include clinical nutrition and dietetics. The program also requires a research-directed capstone project.

two women place a leafy vegetable into a white mesh bag
Tania Naber, left, and Yasmine Boumenir serve as vice president and president, respectively, of the Students of Nutrition in Allied Health Club.

This year, students in the program planted a garden on the Health Sciences Campus near the Ronald McDonald House. The garden currently grows mint, basil, cabbage, broccoli, Swiss chard, collard greens and Brussels sprouts.

Yasmine Boumenir, an MS-DI student, was elected president of the Students of Nutrition in Allied Health Club (SNAHC) in October 2020. She initially started the garden as a way to raise funds for SNAHC’s programs in a safe, socially distant way during the COVID-19 pandemic. The garden was intended to raise funds, create a long-term philanthropic opportunity for future MS-DI cohorts and educate AU students on the importance of nutrition.

The plan was to sell the harvest at low cost to fellow students and the Augusta Locally Grown community to raise funds. “I’m a firm believer that free enterprise can also be altruistic,” said Boumenir.

However, the SNAHC team was able to raise more than enough funds through car washes and bake sales, which allowed them to turn the garden into an exclusively philanthropic project. For Boumenir, this was far more rewarding.

SNAHC first broke ground in November 2020 beside the Jennings Building, where there were a few abandoned garden beds. This was just in time to plant winter crops like cabbage.

a man stands over a vegetable garden
Dr. Lester Pretlow, dean of the College of Allied Health Sciences, checks out the garden.

Nicole Moore, a certified advanced practitioner in clinical nutrition and the director of the dietetic internship program, is excited about the project and acknowledges its importance as the community recovers from COVID-19.

“Our students have seen the impact of food insecurity amid the pandemic, with many of them having recently worked with the Burke County School System and the Golden Harvest Food Bank. This heightened their awareness and contributed to the development of the garden,” said Moore.

Gina Thurman, director of Student Advocacy and manager of the Open Paws Food Pantry, is thankful for the opportunity to expand the pantry’s offerings. “I’m so happy that our students now have access to fresh produce. Food pantries can typically only accommodate shelf-stable food, so although we’ll need to make adjustments, I’m glad our students have this option,” she said.

a green leafy vegetableTo maximize the impact of the initiative, the SNAHC team is working with Student Advocacy to create recipes and educational handouts about the new produce offerings, as well as guides on how to eat fresh produce and other nutritious foods on a college student’s budget.

“A healthy mind begins with a healthy body,” said Boumenir. “I hope future cohorts will expand the diversity and volume of the produce offered and engage more community members in this project.”

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Written by
Paige Fowler

Paige Fowler is the Communications Specialist for the Division of Enrollment and Student Affairs at Augusta University. Contact her to schedule an interview on this topic or with one of our experts at pfowler@augusta.edu.

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Written by Paige Fowler

Jagwire is your source for news and stories from Augusta University and AU Health. Daily updates highlight the many ways students, faculty, staff, researchers and clinicians "bring their A games" in classrooms and clinics on four campuses in Augusta and locations across the state of Georgia.

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