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The UMass Nutrition Association works toward a healthier campus and community

The UMass Nutrition Association during an apple picking trip (Photo courtesy of Amanda Cortese)

The UMass Nutrition Association during an apple picking trip (Photo courtesy of Amanda Cortese)

Five students stand before about 60 hungry people at the Amherst Survival Center Thursday. The center is serving vegetarian chili, pasta with chicken and broccoli in alfredo sauce and a side of mashed potatoes. Their work began around 2:30 p.m. and the workers won’t be back home until about 7 p.m. They serve each dish in the hope of making a difference.

“We’re part of UMass, we try to help the community that’s in the surrounding area,” University of Massachusetts senior Amanda Cortese said.

These students are not just part of the University, however, but a Registered Student Organization known as the UMass Nutrition Association. Each semester, the group sends five members to the survival center to prepare a nutritious, low-budget meal for those who need it.

In the future, UMNA hopes to do this on a more frequent basis.

“They’re really in need and they are so easy to work with,” said Cortese, who is the president of the UMNA. “When we come, they are very appreciative. All the people at the Amherst Survival Center want to interact with us or always have so many questions.

“They are just really interested in what we have to say, so we have built up a good relationship with them.”

The RSO has been on campus for years, according to Cortese, long before she was a student here. Over time, its number has grown to 110 members, most of whom are nutrition majors – although that is not a requirement to become a participant.

Jaime Thorpe, the public relations coordinator, was a communication major when she first became active in the organization. In part due to exploring the nutrition major with the RSO, she eventually decided to change her field of study.

No two UMNA members are alike. According to Cortese, members have different interests within the field of nutrition, such as sports, community or pediatrics.

To accommodate the large number of members who want to make a living studying various branches of nutrition, Cortese added that a lot of meetings are informational and teach majors how to perfect a resume or inform them about graduate school options.

“(What) we hope that members will take away is a professional network,” she said. “The nutrition major is pretty small and it really helps to get connected with other students, with other professors, so we try to get a lot of networking time in.”

Aside from preparing students for the future, the RSO aims to make an impact on current members of the Amherst community.

The group goes to Cold Spring Orchard every autumn to pick ripe apples to donate to the survival center.

Annually, UMNA also collects food for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. In November, it donated 632 pounds of food – a jump from the 420 pounds and 110 pounds it collected the two previous years, respectively.

The RSO also seeks to expand its influence to students on campus. It often holds dorm talks about staying healthy at UMass.

UMNA also helps organize public events, such as the recent lecture on Feb. 23 by vegan expert and endurance athlete Matt Ruscigno. About 150 people attended, which, according to Cortese, was a huge success in outreach and collaboration for the group.

“It turned into an educational and networking experience for students,” Cortese said. “That was probably one of our more exciting events of the semester.”

In the future, the RSO wants to expand its outreach with more volunteer opportunities. It recently voted to add a new position to the executive board, a community service chair, responsible for organizing more regular volunteer programs for those interested, beginning in the fall.

“They are going to be responsible for trying to find volunteer opportunities that will be more weekly, that people can really build their resume with,” Cortese said. “People have really expressed interest in more continuous volunteer experiences.”

She added that with opportunities like these, the RSO not only provides majors with the opportunities they need to succeed, but with the motivation to make a difference.

“Volunteering and understanding the things that people do and the things that people need is really important in the nutrition major,” Thorpe said. “It’s a great community project.”

“Since nutrition is in the School of Public Health, we really are interested in the health of our public,” Cortese said. “It’s important for us to disseminate nutrition information to people in the area.

“Basically our knowledge is no good unless you can give it to other people to use. So it’s something we really try to help the members do.”

Jaclyn Bryson can be reached at jbryson@umass.edu.

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