Boise-based Ruth Campbell Schneider, MPH, RD, LD, has been coordinating her congregation's Friendship Feast — serving one meal a month to the homeless — for more than 18 years. Eight years ago, that role also led to involvement with the Idaho Interfaith Roundtable Against Hunger (IIRAH). "This policy work has become as important to me as the Friendship Feast," says Campbell Schneider.
Q: Tell us about your work and how it fulfills a need in your community.
A: When I first heard that our congregation wanted to join [Friendship Feast], I realized that as a registered dietitian, I had the training and skills to feed large groups of people. Once I organized the first one, I became the coordinator from then on. We have been serving approximately 70 to 80 (and up to 150!) people once a month for more than 18 years.
Idaho Interfaith Roundtable Against Hunger (IIRAH) works on policy issues related to food security in Idaho. We have been very active in lobbying for changes in policies and laws that negatively affect the poor in Idaho.
Q: How has your work made a difference in your community?
A: Low-income and homeless people now know where to get meals in various areas of Boise, including these downtown meals. It has also made volunteers more aware of the issues of hunger in our community.
IIRAH also has helped organize four bi-annual Hunger Summits in Boise, which I have been very involved in. IIRAH also lobbied to change a law that required Idahoans to sell any vehicle worth more than $4,650 in order to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. This law dated back to the 1970s and the vehicle value had not increased with inflation. Idaho is a very rural state and people need their cars to get to work.
Q: What kind of feedback have you received?
A: Everyone feels like the Friendship Feast is a worthwhile project and many are starting to understand the issues of hunger. I estimate that at least 75 percent of our congregation has participated in this project over the years.
Q: What do you find most rewarding about your efforts?
A: Knowing that I am making a difference in people’s lives. As RDs, I feel like helping people get enough food — and enough good food — is core to what we do. It is impossible to discuss a therapeutic diet with someone who doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from.
Q: Looking ahead, how would you like to see your project develop or grow?
A: There’s a need for training in meal planning from a nutrition standpoint for volunteers who feed the poor and homeless. One of the things I have noticed about volunteers with no nutrition background is that meals are often based on what they can get from the food bank, or from donations. They are not planned with nutrition in mind. I think this is what the RD brings to the table — I always make sure that all food groups are served at every meal, and I also make sure that the meal is planned so that the last person in line is served the same food as the first person in line.