My name is Sandra Kraeuter Kops, and I serve as the president and science director of Nutrition Security Solutions, Inc. (NSS, Inc.). I was born and raised in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. After attending college at Case Western Reserve University, I went to graduate school at Cornell. I studied pre-med sciences with the intention of eventually becoming a physician, but as I continued in my education, my greatest love was for the laboratory and for scientific investigation. I ended up conducting biomedical investigations at Yale for many years.
My greatest passion as a researcher was always the role of nutrients in cellular metabolic processes both normal and pathological. I had a special love for mechanical things, including many kinds of microscopes, and that led me into the fascinating, hidden world of cellular biology. But when funding for my research evaporated, I had to shift gears. For many years, I taught biology and nutrition at small local colleges, though I never found this as personally gratifying as my former research career.
In 2017, things began to change for me once again. As a member of the Davenport Residences’ board of directors, I witnessed food insecurity in a way that was new to me—I realized that many of the elderly and/or disabled senior residents in our community did not have enough food to eat—and so I started a small food pantry. The program initially served 28 seniors, then expanded to 150 residents (approximately half of the resident population). We have continued to serve those seniors, including throughout the time of the Covid-19 pandemic; we became a nonprofit entity (NSS, Inc.), and we have since expanded our services into other communities in southern Connecticut.
NSS, Inc.’s chief mission is to continue satisfying the basic human need for food, and to do so from the unique perspective of science-based programming. Our food pantry programs are unique in that scientific approach, which we use to ensure that our services are 1) empowering and client-led, 2) nutritionally relevant, and 3) able to account for conditions of poverty (now defined as social determinants of health).
Our new eCommerce initiative, for which we received funding from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies’ Community Grants program, is one example of how we are trying to better serve our communities. By utilizing eCommerce, we are allowing for greater choice, which makes a big difference in the lives of these senior residents. It also presents a number of challenges, but we have developed clear strategies for addressing those difficulties.
For instance, many of our seniors are fearful of using computer technology, and therefore require kind, patient assistance when placing their orders. To make this even easier, we’ve also partnered with the Connecticut Library System, which sponsors on-site tutorials for those needing IT assistance. To ease concerns about cyber security, we have also created educational hand-outs that can be provided by on-site volunteers.
The exciting thing about integrating eCommerce into our operations is that it allows us to do our jobs better, and it allows the people we are serving a more customizable experience. For example, since we introduced this technology, there has been a significant decrease in the number of orders for animal-based foods.
The participants in our food service programs have been so satisfied with this change that some of them have begun to contribute small donations to NSS, Inc. so that we can purchase more alternative foods, including almond milk. At the same time, purchasing agents at CTFoodShare (a regional food bank) have provided more vegan foods, which can be ordered using fewer purchase points; in effect, this means that residents can order more food by opting for alternative foods.
Change is difficult for any project, and it can be especially difficult when serving elderly clients, but we are really excited about this new initiative. As the science director of NSS, Inc., I am drawing on connections that I made during my years as a scientific researcher. It’s been really satisfying to bring my vocational skills to serve the mission of this nonprofit. Food pantry services are so important to communities around the country, and it is a privilege to be able to improve those services. Thanks to continued funding, our work is becoming even more sustainable.
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