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      Fighting for Food

      Dr. Marina Barnett and Her Social Work Students Continue Working Toward Food Security in Chester

      Carlie Sisco, English and creative writing, '19

      Leading the Fight

      Dr. Marina Barnett, associate professor of social work, has waged a longstanding battle in the city of Chester against food insecurity with help from her students.

      In 2010, Dr. Marina Barnett, an associate professor in the Center for Social Work Education and recent recipient of the university's Civic Engagement Award, became inspired to increase food security in Chester after hearing repeatedly – and from numerous sources – that "there wasn't any food in Chester." That same year, the Food Research Action Council and Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index reported Chester among the second hungriest and most impoverished districts in the United States. These findings further motivated Barnett and her social work students to begin tackling this issue. They began documenting and taking inventory of food types at Chester corner stores and pantries, unfortunately finding seldom provided healthy options.

      Barnett, often with help from her students, has continued to address food insecurity in Chester over the years. She says that she has seen progress, especially since the opening of Chester's first supermarket, Fare & Square, in 2013, but there is always work to be done. Her latest effort, a collaboration with the American Heart Association, focuses on revamping Chester's food pantries.

      Barnett and Tracy Weldon, regional campaign manager for the AHA, are working on this initiative in tandem with the ANCHOR (Accelerating National Community Health Outcomes through Reinforcing Partnerships) Program. According to Barnett, the main goal is to identify where the food security resources are in the city, determine how many pantries there are and evaluate what they offer. "We're really assessing the quality of the food that's there, from a health perspective, and trying to understand what's available, but also what's needed," she said.

      Barnett says that attention on Chester's food situation from organizations like the American Heart Association and even media outlets like the Philadelphia Inquirer and Mainline Today bode well for Chester, because it means that more people know what's going on and are likely to help. She says that the issue of food security often resonates with the general public because people often see it as something they can change. "Food is fundamental," she said. "If we can't fix anything else, we can fix our relationship with food."

      Importance of Social Work Engagement Outside of the Classroom

      Barnett considers her social work students to be the frontlines of the current food pantry operation. Students are not only engaging in the process of resource assessment, but they are also interacting with community members. Barnett says that the students can gain the perspectives of those seeking their assistance – something that cannot be accomplished in the classroom.

      "We have the responsibility to engage our students in these types of activities, so that they are equipped when they go out there to be able to be as helpful as humanly possible, but also so that they have the tools to advocate on behalf of those folks," she said. "We as social workers have to be the leaders. We were founded to work for vulnerable populations and to be able to draw attention to things that other people didn't want to see because it didn't fit the American ideal."


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