Laura Ritland Samnadda is Heartland Alliance’s Food and Nutrition Manager. She has seen firsthand just how powerfully the fear of hunger can affect a person’s well-being. Her efforts to provide access to healthy food and nutritional counseling have benefited countless participants. A dietitian and humanitarian at heart, she finds hope in the very people she serves.
What got you into this work?
As a dietitian, I worry about the food people have access to and the choices they have to make living in a food desert. Getting a chance to serve individuals who need services like the ones I provide has always been the goal.
Why is this work important to the community? To the people we serve?
According to 2016 Map the Meal Gap data, there are over 1.4 million Illinoisans experiencing hunger every day. That’s 1 in 9 people. But when you look at Cook County specifically, those numbers turn into 1 in 7 people. What we know is that food insecurity and poverty go hand-in -hand and affects people in every neighborhood.
Was there a moment where you KNEW you were in a job that was right for you? Could you talk about that?
I remember one participant who came to Vital Bridges and told me that he didn’t know when he was going to eat again. He was older and frail, and he showed me how his belt was tightened to the last notch of his belt to hold up his pants. He didn’t qualify for SNAP. Seeing him struggle with hunger was incredibly difficult, yet I felt proud that we were there for him when he needed food. This same participant still comes to our food pantry and he’s happy, vibrant, and at a healthy weight. He sees the dietitians monthly for a check-in and vitamins.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I’m so grateful to be a part of the food and nutrition team at Heartland Alliance Health – who provides food and nutrition services to people experiencing homelessness, mental illness and other chronic diseases. We have three food pantries a part of the Vital Bridges food program that serves people who are living with HIV and AIDS. These pantries are located in Englewood, West Garfield Park, and Edgewater. These three communities have food insecurity rates of 20-57.8% of residents. Knowing that we are making a difference for those who need it most is all I need!
How can others help your work?
Advocate, donate, and volunteer. The final version of the Farm Bill that houses SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and other feeding programs is being voted on soon. Please call or write your representatives and ask them to protect SNAP.
Donating items to our food programs is always helpful, and you also can volunteer at our food pantries.