Empowering Women Through Food and Nutrition

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“Every night when I go to sleep, I’m eager for tomorrow to come, so I can get back to work,” says Joyce Seamans, manager of a food pantry operated by Adventist Community Services of Greater Washington (ACSGW) in partnership with the Capital Area Food Bank. “Every day, I get to help resilient women of many different backgrounds gain access to healthy, nutritious food.”

Joyce is in the middle of giving a tour of ACSGW, where she has worked for the past decade. ACSGW serves more than 1,000 people per year, the majority of whom are women—single mothers with young children, seniors, immigrants, victims of domestic abuse. Joyce knows many of these women personally. She’s listened to their stories and she considers them her friends. That’s why she’s driven to help. She knows ACSGW can help empower them. She helps them with their food needs—Joyce is particularly proud of the produce section and CAFB recipe cards. She’s even more proud of her cohort of volunteers who take time out every day to help run the pantry. “We come together as a group here dedicated to helping feed people.”

One of these people, Althea, has just come to ACSGW for the first time. A 20-year veteran of the local banking industry, Althea lost her job a little over six months ago when her bank closed down. Six months later, her federal unemployment benefits ran out and Althea suddenly found herself confronted with choices she had never had to deal with before. “How am I going to keep up with rent, bills, and groceries?” Althea remembers saying to herself. The stress of finding employment was hard enough, but now she was dealing with the worry of keeping her fridge stocked and her electricity from going out.

With her stress mounting, Althea turned to her Adventist faith group, who told her about ACSGW. Finding this pantry, Althea says, has rejuvenated her for the job search. “I’ve worked hard all my life, and I’m still working hard,” Althea says. “I spend most of my day each day looking for employment and going on interviews. I’m hoping something will work out soon. But until then, I need some help. Luckily, I found ACSGW.”

Another member of the community, Naana, uses food and nutrition to improve her life during retirement. Naana is a native of Ghana and worked in home healthcare in Maryland for a number of years. Like many seniors in our region, however, her income didn’t enable her to put away enough to last through retirement.  Like Althea, Naana found ACSGW through her faith and friends. She attends the pantry regularly, picking up oranges, celery, potatoes, onions and more. She also participates in nutrition classes run by Joyce, and has developed a passion for cooking. With ACSGW and the food bank’s help, Naana is able to stay healthy in retirement.

Ken Flemmer, ACGSW’s executive director, recounts the story of another woman served by the center. Fatima, a young mother, showed up on ACGSW’s doorstep before the facility opened one morning, having fled from her home with her kids because of domestic abuse. ACSGW helped her through the trauma.

“Unfortunately, stories like Fatima’s are all too common,” Ken says. “People, many of whom are women, through no fault of their own are struggling to survive abuse, job loss, poverty and hunger. But ACSGW provides case management, clothing, emergency financial assistance, technology education and job training to help members of the community lift themselves out of poverty. Food is a crucial element of that that lift.”

And it’s what gets Joyce jumping out of bed in the morning. “It’s a blessing working here. With help from my coworkers and the food bank, I get to help empower women.”