(10/23/19) Baton Rouge, La. — The LSU AgCenter recently hosted events around Louisiana to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, commonly known as EFNEP.
The program began as a pilot program in Alabama in 1968, then was rolled out nationwide in 1969.
Since then, EFNEP has educated limited-resource families and youth in Louisiana, teaching them to develop skills to make healthy changes that will lead to improved diets and nutritional well-being.
“Through EFNEP’s hands-on approach, participants learn to make behavioral changes and improve the nutritional quality of meals for their families,” said Sharman Charles, EFNEP program director with the AgCenter.
People who receive some type of governmental assistance or who are eligible for free or reduced school lunches are eligible to participate in EFNEP.
EFNEP is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture. It is delivered to participants through the extension services of the nation’s 76 land-grant universities, including the AgCenter.
Since 1969, the program has reached more than 33 million low-income families and youth, Charles said.
AgCenter nutrition agent Bertina McGhee said EFNEP arose out of a societal concern for the millions of Americans who were facing poverty, hunger and food insecurity in the 1960s.
“Today, EFNEP is active in all 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Micronesia and American Samoa,” she said.
EFNEP focuses on limited-resource families with an emphasis on parents and other adult caregivers who have the primary responsibility for feeding young children. It also offers specialized programs for moms-to-be, new parents and youth between the ages of 5 and 19.
“EFNEP remains true to its core principles of being a peer educator-driven program that focuses on improving the overall well-being of the entire family,” McGhee said.
Through hard work and the tireless dedication of the EFNEP nutrition educators and local agents that supervise the program, more than 1,700 adults and 11,000 youth were enrolled and received a series of nutrition education lessons in 12 parishes throughout Louisiana in the current fiscal year.
Gina E. Eubanks, AgCenter associate vice president and program leader for food and nutrition, said the EFNEP program is successful because of the “three P’s: partnership, program and people.”
At an anniversary celebration in Orleans Parish on Oct. 18, New Orleans City Councilwoman Cyndi Nguyen reflected on the partnership between EFNEP and VIET, a nonprofit organization focusing on Vietnamese residents in New Orleans East.
“When I started the nonprofit as a way of working with children, we were interested in improving our community, but our children were eating fried chicken and burgers, and I thought that was OK,” she said. “But by partnering with EFNEP, you showed us a better way, and you taught us how to prepare nutritional foods.”
Things have changed quite a bit since those early days of EFNEP, McGhee said.
Nutrition aides, as they were called during the early years, were hired part-time, working 24 hours per week.
“The wage for a part-time nutrition aide was $1.88 per hour, according to Lillie Mae Stokes, one of the surviving Orleans EFNEP educators, who started in 1970 and was in attendance for this celebration,” McGhee said.
During that time, EFNEP nutrition aides had to live in the communities where they worked.
“Food demonstrations were conducted using commodity foods such as cheese, rice, oatmeal, flour, canned beef and pork,” she said. “The focus was on teaching families how to use what they had available to feed their family and stretching the food dollar.”
Those meetings were conducted in clients’ homes, while youth meetings were held after school in nutrition aides’ homes.
“At that time, there were about 10 part-time nutrition aides in Orleans Parish, and each was required to enroll 50 homemakers, as the EFNEP adult clients were called,” she said.
The celebration events around the state highlighted the program’s history and recognized former and current staff and community partners.
Other locations where celebrations were held during September and October were Shreveport, Baton Rouge, Rayville and Oak Grove.
Sharman Charles, EFNEP program director with the LSU AgCenter, discusses the history of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program in New Orleans on Oct. 18. The program is celebrating 50 years of existence around the state. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter
Cyndi Nguyen, New Orleans City Councilwoman for District E, speaking at the 50-year celebration of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program on Oct. 18. She said she hopes to partner with the LSU AgCenter and the EFNEP program to take a blighted property and turn it into an area where farming can take place. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter