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What have we done?

As part of our two-week food service placement, a group of 9 Master of Dietetics students from Monash Uni, were allocated to Eastern Health, working in partnership with Yarra Ranges Emergency Food Relief Network (YRERN). The aim of the project was to investigate the various organisations that offer emergency food relief services in the Upper Yarra Ranges region, to better improve nutrition knowledge, understanding and skills.

We focused on three primary organisations:

  1. Love in the name of Christ (LinC), which has multiple sites including Wandin and Yarra Junction Community Centre
  2. Adventist Development Relief Agency (ADRA) at the Redwood Community Centre
  3. Koha Community Cafe

As a network, YRERN works to build capacity and connections between organisations working in emergency and food relief, to support a sustainable and coordinated emergency food relief network in the area. While there is already a committee with representation from these organisations, our 2-week project aimed to expand YRERN’s existing knowledge base by engaging with key stakeholders such as volunteers and consumers to gather data on resources, food supply and provision and gain a deeper understanding of where and how additional support can be offered. As such, our project did not evaluate all running programs, and data analysis was based on requirements put forth by Monash University in the form of tasks, as well as specific requests from YRERN themselves.

Each pair in our group was assigned one of these organisations to conduct a more in-depth exploration of their policies, consumer engagement practices, the food supply chain, the nutritional quality of the food they provide, and the preservation of consumer dignity within the Upper Yarra Ranges food assistance system. In collaboration with YRERN, we developed a toolkit and questionnaire to facilitate data collection. We also had a newfound understanding of the emergency food relief setting; the organisations were supportive of our learnings, allowing us the opportunity to participate with their volunteers and consumers.  Through their program, not only was it a valuable experience for us all, but the take-home messages of the purpose to these organisations widened our perspectives in the important work they do for their community.

What did we learn about public health

  • This was a valuable experience where we learnt the importance of collaboration and building rapport with not only key stakeholders but ultimately community members. Continuing to elaborate on this experience, we realised that successful community engagement goes beyond just sending emails and observation. It’s about building relationships and trust within the community. Here are a few of our key takeaways:
    • Emergency food relief goes beyond simply food provision: They are a source of social interaction, providing an opportunity for all people to feel a sense of connections and companionship within the community.
    • Flexibility and adaptability, as not all communities are the same; what works for one organisation may not work for another. Therefore being flexible and adaptable in our approach is crucial. We learnt to adjust our strategies to ensure we addressed both our project needs and include the community’s voice and practicalities of the challenges of recommendations on the ground through these emergency services dealing with acute worry for individuals.
    • Understanding diverse perspectives: stakeholders and community members hold varying priorities and expectations. Finding common ground and navigating through these diverse viewpoints present an opportunity for innovative problem-solving.

Conclusion

Our journey with the Yarra Ranges Food Relief Network underscored the value of community engagement, collaboration and the importance of fostering positive relationships.

Personal Reflection: Community engagement should not be a one-off effort. It’s an ongoing commitment. Although we were not able to continue this project beyond the 2 weeks, it came to our realisation through conducting our future project proposal that maintaining communications with key stakeholders has always been crucial for the sustained success of such initiatives. It has also been evident just how important emergency food relief networks are and how it positively impacts each community member, through helping others or being helped.

Students; Charlotte, Ashley, Kee Mei and Nicole September 2023

Note about Picture: Map displays information gathered by the students through observation and interviews during the snap-shot of time period of the study and this may not represent the whole picture of this food supply (ie where it comes from) and provision (who it goes to).

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