Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be a challenge for anyone, and even more difficult for people struggling with hunger. Healthy foods are often unavailable, more expensive, often unfamiliar and are often perceived as requiring more time to prepare. Nutrition education messages are also often out of reach for people facing hunger. When people are working multiple jobs, juggling parenthood and dealing with the everyday stress of not having enough -- learning the vitamin content of a carrot doesn't always top their list of priorities.
Tammy, a mother of four I met at a food pantry in Tennessee, captured part of this challenge perfectly. "I definitely want to feed my children healthy food," she said, "but it's expensive to purchase and sometimes when I receive fresh produce from a food pantry, I don't always have time or know the best way to prepare it."
In October 2013, Feeding America aimed to address this problem by launching HealthyFoodBankHub.org, a site designed to promote and enhance nutrition efforts at food banks across the Feeding America network. Since the launch in October 2013, we have had 66,731 unique users. Our ultimate intent of the "Tools and Resource" section was to provide high quality, targeted resources to professionals working with food-insecure populations so that they can help families like Tammy's learn about nutrition and empower them to prepare healthy meals. Resources on the Hub include nutrition education curriculum and handouts, research findings and simple, quick and healthy recipes adapted for people trying to eat well on a tight budget.
This past year served as a trial period for the site. After discovering its strengths and areas for growth, we decided -- with the support Kraft and Kraft Foods Group Foundation -- to bring in Futureman Digital to ramp up the site's search functions. We wanted to make it easier for people, regardless of their technology skills or content interests to be able to find what they are looking for on the site.
Futureman Digital proposed using Google Custom Search to leverage the power of the underlying Google search engine that we have all come to know, love and expect in a search. By using some of the advanced aspects of Google's Custom Search Engine (CSE), such as PageMaps, SiteMaps and a bevy of other tools, we were not only able to effectively index all of the site items automatically but also organize and relate its content.
The new search tool --- with its indexing capabilities and the underlying power of Google -- has made searching through Tools and Resources on the Healthy Food Bank Hub much more effective and efficient. Now, visitors can easily search for assets based on necessary equipment (is a blender or oven needed?) individual ingredient, timeframe (does the recipe take 15 minutes or 30 minutes?) and source -- to name a few. And the easier it is for site visitors to find the nutrition and health materials they need, the easier it is to share and utilize these resources for themselves or in the communities they live and work.
In addition to the integration of a new Google Custom Search Engine into the site, Futureman also developed customizable widget offerings that organizations and bloggers can tailor for specific purposes and audiences. It gives food banks, food pantries, partner organizations and others the ability to to quickly and simply embed their new widgets in their own IPs to immediately provide the people they serve with health-promoting resources.
For example, let's go back to Tammy in Tennessee. The food bank that serves her now has the ability to embed the Healthy Food Bank Hub widget into the page hosting its food distribution schedule in Tammy's community. The food bank can customize the widget so that when Tammy checks the schedule, she can also find simple recipes detailing how she can cook the carrots, for example, she'll receive that day. It's a simple solution that has the potential -- the opportunity to help people facing food insecurity get more than just enough to eat, but to breakdown some of the barriers to preparing and consuming the healthful foods for herself and her family.
To learn more and do your part to solve hunger and promote health, visit the Tools and Resources section of the Healthy Food Bank Hub.