Most people who know Doug Williams at all know he quarterbacks for the National Football League Washington Redskins. What they don't know is that as a child he - and thousands of others in low-income families - was in serious danger of being malnourished.
His mother participated in the then-young Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program and his life took a completely different turn."My mother took the information, put it in a red bean pot and here I am," Williams said during a press conference this fall honoring the 20th anniversary of the nutrition program.
He gave a lot of the credit for his quick recovery from several knee operations and for his generally excellent health to the things he learned about nutrition and the healthy eating habits he developed after his mother attended the U.S. Department of Agriculture program.
EFNEP is about food - buying it, raising it, storing it, preparing it, keep it safe and sanitary - all within a limited budget.
Participants learn the principles of sound nutrition, and in doing so, they improve the diets and health of entire families and increase their knowledge about the relationship between diet and health.
The program also focuses on food production, preparation, storage, safety and sanitation and how to improve those aspects. Finally, those who are also taking part in the food stamp program learn to manage food budgets and use the stamps effectively for the sake of the family's diets.
The program is operated nationally through State Extension Services and filters down to the county level. In Utah, the program is coordinated by Utah State University's Georgia S. Lauritzen.
EFNEP hasn't attracted a lot of attention in its 20 years, but it has impacted 21 million participants. In more than 800 programs across the nation, low-income homemakers with young children and 4-H youth are learning the importance of good nutrition from paraprofessionals and volunteers.
Statistics demonstrate the program's importance.
Of participating families, 91 percent have annual incomes below $7,900 and 67 percent live on less than $3,700 a year. Food stamps are the major source of food for 65 percent of the families in the program.
Slightly over one-third are enrolled in the Women, Infant and Children program. Ninety-six percent have children who are younger than age 5. Of those children, two-thirds are in the birth to 2-year-old category. Six of every 10, nationally, are a minority family.
Of the youth who take part in the program, 61 percent are 9 to 13 years old, 91 percent are 6 to 13. Slightly more than half are female. And 46 percent of the youth live in central cities of over 50,000 population.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about EFNEP, however, is the diversity of the people - mostly women - who teach nutrition to the low-income families.
A recent birthday party for EFNEP at the Salt Lake County Government Building brought out dozens of past and present instructors. They are a cross-section of every category you could imagine: They are young, old, represent all income levels and educational, religious, and racial backgrounds.
What they have in common is a high level of caring. Each one had a touching story - or 20 of them - about clients they have worked with over the years. These instructors have gone into hundreds of homes in Utah to teach and to pave the way for healthier, more nutrition-conscious lives.
- On a totally different subject, I've been bombarded with calls from people who want to provide nice business-style clothing for women who are going through the self-sufficiency programs to become independent.
In an earlier column I suggested that clothing was a big drawback for some of the low-income women who were searching for jobs. By calling around a bit, I found that the YWCA, 322 E. 300 South, will accept such donations, and provide clothing at no cost to women who are returning to school, on job searches, etc. For information, call 355-2804.
A YWCA staffer told me that they work with the State Department of Social Services and several area vocational and educational institutions to make the clothing available as it is needed.