Call 2-1-1

In a dash of wellness-meets-kids-meets-food news, Asheville’s Ira B. Jones Elementary School may have a winning twist on legumes: The school’s “Tuscan smoked turkey and bean soup” concoction made the semifinals of the Recipes for Healthy Kids competition, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials announced on March 9.

The soup evolved as part of a collaborative effort with Grove Park Inn Executive Chef Denny Trantham, says Susan Bower, the school’s child nutrition manager. Last year, Trantham offered his services as part of the Chefs in Schools program (an offshoot of first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move project). The partnership began with an “apple assembly” at Ira B. Jones, says Bower. “I actually dressed up as an apple,” she adds, laughing. With Trantham’s help, the goal was getting kids to try different varieties of apples and learn what makes them good for you.

But then Bower’s boss mentioned the recipe contest. Trantham and Bower created basic recipes for each category — Dry Beans and Peas, Whole Grains, and Dark Green and Orange Vegetables.

“The [bean soup] recipe is [Trantham’s], but we had to break it down,” says Bower. Bean soups are typically hearty, but making the recipe healthy and suitable for kids meant making a few changes, she explains. “Chefs like to cook with heavy cream and butter and wine … all the things we can’t use in public schools,” says Bower, who admits a little weakness for rich ingredients herself. But with a little modification, the rich recipe transformed into a tasty broth featuring such vegetables as kale. “The smoked turkey gives it that umph,” she asserts.

The proof will be in the next stages of the contest: Until May 15, the public gets to vote for their favorite recipe among a wide field of semifinalists from all over the country. Meanwhile, a judging panel (a USDA official, an American Culinary Federation chef and a school nutrition professional) will visit the school and taste the soup for themselves. “We’ll serve it on the line, and they’ll judge us for creativity and presentation,” Bower reports. The judges will also talk to the kids and get their critique.

At stake is a chance to take part in a national cook-off this summer with White House chefs. Hopefully, Bower won’t have to dress up like an apple for that one.

For more information — and to submit your vote by May 15 — visit the website, www.recipesforkidschallenge.com.
— Margaret Williams

Get help with 2-1-1

A new study of the United Way's 2-1-1 of WNC program "shows us what we already knew to be true: In tough times, needs are on the rise," says Director Rachael Nygaard.

The information line aims to connect callers with available health and human services in Buncombe, Henderson, Madison and Transylvania counties. The service is free, confidential and available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. "That over a third of calls [last year] were in relation to basic needs speaks volumes about the kind of situations our neighbors are facing," Nygaard explains. "People are struggling to make ends meet and people are calling to find out what places in the area can provide food. We inform people about food stamps and other resources as well."

The annual report found that people with health questions or concerns tied for second on the call list, with 12 percent of all callers seeking health-related support. Trained referral specialists then put those callers in touch with the right kind of service to match their individual issue, from cancer screenings to wound care.

In 2010, 54,605 calls were made to 2-1-1, a 49 percent increase in calls received two years earlier, and 35 percent of those calls were made by residents seeking help with basic needs such as food and housing, according to the report.

"We get a lot of calls where people are looking for some kind of community clinic," Nygaard notes. "People may be uninsured or they may be on public insurance or in some kind of urgent care type setting."

Since starting in 2001, the program has evolved to incorporate an e-mail service and a website that offers users a searchable database of more than 2,000 local public and non-profit programs. But Nygaard maintains that the heart of the service is still in the person-to-person care of the phone conversations.

"The more that there are high-tech ways for people to get connected to services, we are reminded of the importance of that human interaction," she explains. "When people dial 2-1-1, they get a referral specialist who can listen and provide guidance and support. Sometimes it means brainstorming or helping people prioritize what their needs are. Sometimes it's very straightforward and sometimes it's more in-depth."

It's all part of the nonprofit’s holistic approach to wellness, Nygaard adds.

"United Way focuses on education, income and health," she says. "We know that there's a lot of back and forth between those three areas. We know that for someone to have good health, they may need the income or the education."

To use the service, dial 2-1-1 on any cell phone or landline, e-mail your questions to 211info@unitedwayabc.org,, or visit nc211.org online.
— Jake Frankel

— Send your health-and-wellness news to mxhealth@mountainx.com or news@mountainx.com, or call News Editor Margaret Williams at 251-1333, ext. 152.I

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