This article is part of Stories of Change, a series of inspirational articles of the people who deliver evidence-based programs and strategies that empower communities to eat healthy and move more. It is made possible with funding from Michigan Fitness Foundation.
When COVID-19 hit Michigan in March, Michigan Fitness Foundation (MFF) and its many community partners had to figure out how to continue reaching Michigan families with vital information about healthy eating and physical activity. By mid-April, MFF had launched a solution: Online Learning in a SNAP, a YouTube-based learning platform that enlists statewide partners to produce short videos that inspire healthier living.
As a State Implementing Agency for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, MFF offers competitive grant funding for local and regional organizations to conduct SNAP-Ed programming throughout Michigan. SNAP-Ed is an education program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that teaches people eligible for SNAP how to live healthier lives.
“When COVID-19 hit, we had to pivot from in-person programming and develop a safe way to continue SNAP-Ed programming in line with the national response,” says Sarah Trofatter, MFF director of resources and training.
Online Learning in a SNAP offers a highly accessible way to do just that. The YouTube channel features a variety of playlists organized by partners, nutrition and physical activity interventions, recipes and guided readings.
“Our partners were looking for ways to educate while responding to the ever-changing needs in the communities they serve. Having the ability to deliver their programs in a thoughtful way online allowed them to continue to meet a niche that would have not been filled otherwise,” Trofatter says. “Creating content that they could deliver online allowed educators to remain connected with participants they already developed relationships with — in addition to connecting with new community members during a time when in-person relationships were more difficult to develop.”
One of those partners, the Bronson Health Foundation, serves 10 counties in southwest Michigan with a combined population over 1 million. MFF’s SNAP-Ed programming at Bronson Wellness Center brings people together from across different organizations to engage entire communities. As a part of Online Learning in a SNAP, Bronson has shared a series of short videos titled “Ms. Isabel’s Eats," featuring Bronson Wellness Center Health Educator Isabel Hinton. In each video, Hinton cheerily shares healthy eating tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's MyPlate program.
“Our goal is to provide community health resources and healthy living resources for families, kids, and everybody who is stuck at home," Hinton says. "If they are experiencing food insecurity, our videos give them ideas on little tips and tricks they can do at home, different healthy recipes people can make with the food they have on hand, and the substitutions they can use. With these videos, we can still provide community education and resources safely.”
The Bronson team also produced the "Paris’s Kitchen" video series, which features Paris Woods, a sophomore at Loy Norrix High School, teaching her peers how to cook healthy foods. Woods features recipes using ingredients from the free Grab and Go Meal Service boxes distributed to students at 20 schools and four community sites in the Kalamazoo County region.
“While we thought all of the things we did with SNAP-Ed had to be face-to-face, COVID-19 forced us to change,” says Christine Flood, health education supervisor in the Community Health, Equity, and Inclusion Department at Bronson Wellness Center. “We realized more people will attend a virtual event. We are reaching out to people that really have a lot of barriers — transportation, childcare, and work schedules. Now, if they have an internet connection and a phone or some kind of device, they can get to our education. That is one of the good things that have come out of the pandemic.”
With community partners like Bronson creating the videos, Online Learning in a SNAP provides a platform for MFF to continue to reach SNAP-Ed participants around the state with healthy messages while maintaining local relevance. SNAP-Ed educators, who have already built relationships in their communities, are now able to build new connections while sharing resources with their peers leading SNAP-Ed programs across the state.
“Because of the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and the need to deliver a variety of programming throughout the state, offering programming online allows our partners the flexibility to address needs specific to their community,” Trofatter says.
Since its launch, people have viewed Online Learning in a SNAP videos over 8,000 times. Stakeholders agree that the new platform will continue to bring healthy eating and physical activity strategies to Michiganders long after the pandemic has run its course.
“I do see us continuing to use Online Learning in a SNAP,” says Flood. “It has expanded our ability to offer education in different ways that we hadn’t thought about before.”
“Because of the pandemic, the way we deliver SNAP-Ed has evolved and online programming is here to stay,” Trofatter adds. “We have learned about the importance of offering our interventions in the digital age and how to deliver online programming in an engaging and effective way. Online Learning in a SNAP is just the start.”