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National Nutrition Month 2021: An Interview with Registered Dietitian Jeanne Reiche of Face to Face Germantown

In recognition of National Nutrition Month, we would like to share highlights from a recent interview we had with Jeanne Reiche, the Director of Development and Communications at Face to Face Germantown.  As you will see below, after many years of practicing in a clinical setting as a registered dietitian (RD), Jeanne is now using the skills and training she acquired to support and grow this vital program.  

A big thank you to Regina Karpovich, a LaSalle University dietetic intern serving her community nutrition rotation at the Coalition Against Hunger this semester, for her work in conducting and transcribing this interview.* 

 

Coalition Against Hunger:

Can you explain to us what exactly Face to Face is and what it does for the community?

Jeanne Reiche:

Face to Face is a human service organization that provides legal, health, social, and dining services. We are what you may think of as a soup kitchen, but we're not your typical soup kitchen. We are basically a farm-to-table-type congregate meal site, and that is, obviously, pre-COVID, not during COVID. We offer a hot meal at lunchtime five days a week and a hot breakfast/continental breakfast four days a week. We partner with an organic farm in Bucks County called Carversville Farm. They provide probably anywhere from 60 to 70% of our food. It’s the meats, proteins and produce. 

 

Coalition Against Hunger:

How did Face to Face start?

Jeanne Reiche:

 It started back in 1984 when the crack epidemic had hit Germantown really hard and a White flight had occurred. The members of Saint Vincent Parish had noticed that hunger was really becoming a big issue in Germantown. It started out small with a meal on a Sunday afternoon after mass. It was all volunteer based and it grew organically from that. It was started just on Sundays because back in the mid-80s there were no congregate meal sites on weekends and then Saturday was added, then Friday night, then Monday and eventually Tuesday. They were getting donations from Chestnut Hill Farmers Market and piecemealing it together. 

The volunteers drove the way that Face to Face grew. As I said, it started with a meal and then a volunteer was a lawyer and chatting with guests, they found that they had legal issues, so a legal center was open. The same thing with the Health Centers. Nurses were volunteering in serving the meals and so our Health Center is nurse managed, and then a social worker was added. We also have ancillary services.  We have a shower for the homeless to come in and take a shower, we have art programs, and we have a computer lab, also. We originated out of the parish, then in 1996, we became an independent nonprofit.

I think the biggest thing is not just what we do, it's the way in which we do it. Our guests, we welcome them as guests, not clients or patients. We get to know who they are, and we meet them wherever they are. For some people just walking in our door, to cross that threshold, is a big step, for them. We try to know them by name, and often the meal is the portal to other services. They are welcomed to a table and the meal is served dining room style.  We have volunteers that offer beverages to them and then we serve meals. It is not an a la carte kind of buffet line that they go through. In conversations with staff and volunteers, they’ll learn about other services. They’ll learn about, maybe a birth certificate clinic, that our legal center is having, or that they don't have an ID and they’ll get an ID through the social worker, or that they have housing issues and that they can that get that addressed, or that they’re not feeling well, and they go to the nurse and the nurse finds that the blood pressure is high and it's high because they're about to be evicted, so that they can be sent to be managed through the social worker and the lawyer. I believe we're the only non-profit in Philadelphia that has all those services under one roof. Have you ever done patient care where you say to a patient here's a token and go to the benefits office or go see the lawyer or the mental health professional? The benefit of having everything under one roof is really a model that works for our client. Because we're geographically in Germantown, not in Center City, where so many resources are, that's a little bit of a difference as well. 

One of our core values is mutuality and we believe everyone is equal.  We may have been brought up and born in different zip codes, but we all have the same desires and dreams and wishes. We keep ourselves in mind as the consumer.  For instance, if the food isn't good enough for me, I'm not going to serve it to somebody else. Our chef is from Haiti.  He makes everything from scratch and there is no canned product except for coconut milk and tomato paste. He has an amazing talent for soups.  He puts herbs and spices and stuff that you wouldn't think of.  Everyone is welcome and we don't take names.  We believe that is a dignity issue. We take names in the centers in the program areas for social, legal, and health, but we don't take names in the dining room. 

The other component that we do is a Fresh Market, and this is to promote increased eating of fresh fruits and vegetables. Again, this is part of our partnership with Carversville Farm.  They provide us with organic produce. It's a full choice market.  We believe that people should be able to choose what they want, so it's like going to a farmers market stand. Not only do we get the produce delivered from Carversville Farm every Tuesday, we also have our own garden. It is a plot behind our building across the street and it's a full-fledged garden. Carversville Farm helps us in the planning of it and they provide seeds for us. 

 

Coalition Against Hunger:

How and when did you start with Face to Face?

Jeanne Reiche:

I actually began as a volunteer probably about 15 years ago. I go on Saturdays and work in serving the dining room or help prepping the meal and I did that for a number of years. Then I was asked to be on the Board, and I sat on the Board for a couple years. Then they were adding this position and they asked me to take it. It just kind of happened.  

 

Coalition Against Hunger: 

How has your training and past experiences as an RD prepared you for your current role at Face to Face? 

Jeanne Reiche: 

My experience [as a registered dietitian] had always been clinical. I had a traditional route in my professional life.  I got out of my internship and I worked at Penn for a few years and then I worked at Temple. When I started to have kids I consulted for pharmaceutical companies, the City of Philadelphia, MANNA and Presbyterian Hospital.  

As the Director of Development and Communications, I do fundraising and communications. I am able to bring my background of nutrition and science to the framework in which we operate. I have a grant writer that works for me, and she will write grants but because of my background I was able to frame our services in the social determinants of health. Then obviously the dining area, I have worked with the chef to make recommendations and ensure that we are following guidelines.  It's not your traditional route, they weren't necessarily looking for a dietitian for this position, but my training has helped in being able to look at the things that our chef is making to be sure they're balanced. When COVID hit and we went to grab and go meals, I was the one who came up with a list of pantry items that we would collect. So, in addition to the grab and go meal that we were giving out three days a week, we provide them with a bag of pantry items. I made sure that they were hearty and balanced. I would list what items should be in the pantry bag.  The other thing my training has helped me with, that I haven't mentioned− the Health Center.  Actually, the nurses [at our Health Center] do all the education. We do disease-screening management and so the nurses are providing all the education for diabetes, hypertension, weight management, and healthy eating. I help to provide them with current nutrition information. I've also given them nutrition education handouts that they could use that were current, accurate, and have proper reading levels and not, you know, novels for them to read about how to lower their blood pressure. When we apply for Health Center funding, I am able to use my scientific knowledge in evaluating the research on the health needs of our community and communicating our ability to meet those needs.  The other thing I'm involved in is training with Pew Charitable Trust.  They are doing some data analysis training for us about our work and because I did my master’s in research design and analysis, I'm able to really dig into the data and ask questions that should be asked. 


Coalition Against Hunger: 

What advice would you give to an RD to be who is interested in working in Community Nutrition? 

Jeanne Reiche:

I don't know if this is still the case, but I can remember when I got out of my internship and, again, I was pretty hardcore clinical at the beginning, you think that clinical is the place to be. It's a great experience, you get a good base and a broad exposure to lots of different things, but as I practiced more, I realized that a community-based dietitian really is at the grassroots of what's happening.  You really get a better picture of what is happening with the individual and how they are living. When you're in the hospital and you educate somebody, you don't know what their home situation is, but as a community dietitian you are able to really learn about their environment and the other things that are contributing to their health. It's not just what you're eating, but it's who you're surrounding yourself with, what is available in your community food store, where are the resources, and what is available to a consumer in a corner store since not everyone has a big food store nearby. I think as I've evolved as a dietitian, I've really appreciated the work that community dietitians do and the long-term impact that you can make on somebody.

I think the great thing about the profession of dietetics is that there are so many options available to you. The profession allows us to do many different things with the degree, and, you know, everyone has to eat, so you can really make impact wherever you are and whatever you're doing.

 

Coalition Against Hunger:

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

Jeanne Reiche:

I would say for people to follow what their passions are, and that it should never feel like work. If you love what you do, and want to make a difference, you can do that in many different ways.

 

Coalition Against Hunger:

Thank you so much!


*This interview was edited and condensed for readability.