Q&A with Episcopal Community Services: Adapting to Offer Virtual Health and Wellness Programming

Alliance for Strong Families and Communities Alliance
May 27, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly changed the eating habits of many families. It’s also changed how many community-based organizations are helping residents with food access and education in healthy eating.

Over the last year, Episcopal Community Services in Philadelphia has pivoted its health and wellness programming to a virtual model. 

As video conferencing and virtual activities have become the norm over the last year, community-based organizations are maximizing the opportunities to help families build their knowledge and skills around healthy eating. In its move to virtual programming, Episcopal Community Services is creating a customized, nutrition-focused version of the Food Network with cooking demos, salad competition, and more.

Healthy For Life® , an online portal from the American Heart Association, developed in partnership with Aramark, makes it easy for community-based organizations to offer health and wellness programming. This full suite of resources, including a complete curriculum, facilitator guides, videos, icebreakers, and more, comes ready to share. 

Q&A with Episcopal Community Services

We connected with Pamela Egleston, Director of Health and Wellness Programming at Episcopal Community Services, to learn more about how they’ve adapted over the last year and their program’s successes. 

What is your community’s favorite Healthy for Life Educational Experience and/or recipe and why? 

The introductory session, “Feed Your Potential ” is usually a fan favorite.  Participants are pleasantly surprised at the recommended servings per day of fruits and vegetables to have a healthy diet.  The apple nachos recipe is the recipe most remember and say they will definitely try at home with their family.  Senior club members often comment that they will use this recipe for a healthy snack.  You can’t go wrong with staples like apples and peanut butter.

What is something you have done over the last year to ensure your community members have access to fresh food/groceries? 

After hearing from others in the Healthy For Life Group calls regarding the success they have had incorporating Healthy For Life educational experiences with Food Pantry participants, Episcopal Community Services is looking to expand our food pantry to an open market/food choice model.  We are excited to offer and include the educational component to this service.  Our target to begin is this spring and it may be a hybrid experience with the pantry pick-up in-person and the educational experience virtual pending safety guidelines around social distancing and number of participants who can gather in a designated indoor space. 

What is one thing you have learned regarding offering virtual programming to the community? 

The virtual experience offers convenience and potentially could reach a broader audience as the participant would not have to leave their home.  Although we tried encouraging participants to prepare the recipe along with the facilitator by sending the recipe in advance, it did not work out that way.  Nevertheless, our facilitator is very engaging and makes the educational piece of the experience interactive with pop quizzes in the chat etc.  The last half can be liken to a cooking show on TV.  The participants watch as the facilitator demonstrates how to prepare the recipe.  There is always banter back and forth as participants muse if only they could smell and taste the recipe.  So what we have learned is that if the facilitator is engaging the program works.  

If you could do it all over again, what’s one thing you would do differently when implementing a virtual/remote program? 

I would find a practical way to get the ingredients for the recipes to participants in advance so that they can prepare it, if not during the session, afterward to share with their families.  We did build in credits for attending each session in the form of grocery store gift cards as an incentive.  We are planning a “Salad Competition ” at the end the series with prizes like an air fryer, blender or slow cooker.  Another lesson learned is to give participants choice around prizes as some established household may have some of those essential items.Do you think you will continue with any of the changes you made once people are able to gather again and why?  

We will continue to have the “competitions”.  It is a fun way to engage participants and let them show off their culinary skills.  Who doesn’t like winning a prize?  We are definitely looking forward to engaging new participants from our newly expanded food pantry.

Access Healthy for Life Resources

Visit Healthy for Life® portal  to get started. Complete the facilitator orientation, access the welcome toolkit and curriculum, and join the online community.

Looking for guidance on how to start a Healthy for Life program in your community? Register now for the webinar Healthy for Life – Steps for Success , to be held June 17 at 1 p.m. CT. It will provide information on your role as facilitator and resources available.

Alliance for Strong Families and Communities

About Alliance

With millions of children, adults, and families across the nation experiencing barriers to achieving their full potential, the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities works with thousands of committed social sector leaders to help their organizations more positively impact their communities. During this time of immense change in our field, the imperative for our network to be strong, excellent, distinct, and influential has never been greater. Rooted in the historic cause of advancing equity for all people, the Alliance today is a national strategic action network driven by members aligned through shared ownership and a common vision to achieve a healthy and equitable society. The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities represents a network of hundreds member organizations across the U.S. The member network is comprised of private human-serving nonprofits that provide direct services to children, families, adults, and communities and state or regional federations, councils, and associations.