UB graduate students are providing free nutrition counseling at Jefferson Ave. Tops

Three UB clinical nutrition graduate students talking with a shopper at the Jefferson Avenue Tops grocery store.

From left, Peyton Hinterberger, Hannah Strassburg and Melissa Camp, students in the School of Public Health and Health Professions’ clinical nutrition MS program, offer nutrition tips to David Edmunds during a recent visit to the Tops Friendly Markets on Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

Release Date: August 4, 2022

“When community leaders reached out to Tops during the reopening planning stages and voiced their desires to offer the community more options...we knew that partnering with UB would be ideal for our customers. ”
Matt Hamed, director of pharmacy
Tops Friendly Markets

BUFFALO, N.Y. — On a recent Thursday morning, retired Buffalo City Court Judge David Edmunds stopped by the Jefferson Avenue Tops Friendly Markets on Buffalo’s East Side to get a few items. In addition to his oatmeal raisin cookies, he picked up some nutrition tips courtesy of three University at Buffalo graduate students posted at the entrance next to the produce section.

“No matter what age you are, it’s critically important to eat three balanced meals throughout the day, and the students emphasized that to me here today,” Edmunds said.

The store reopened July 15 following extensive renovations after a white supremacist targeted the store, located in a predominantly Black neighborhood, shooting and killing 10 people and injuring three others there on May 14.

Since the store’s reopening on July 15, students from the clinical nutrition master’s program in UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions have been offering free nutrition information and counseling, food samples and store tours. As graduate students, they are soon-to-be dietitians who aim to serve the community’s nutrition needs now and in the future.

They were at Tops on July 17 and 28, and have four more dates on the calendar. Each day has focused on a specific theme. For example, heart health was the topic for their first visit, followed by cholesterol.

Students will be tabling at the store again from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Friday, Aug. 5 (diabetes); 4-8 p.m. Aug. 8 (oral health); 4-8 p.m. Aug. 16 (general nutrition); and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 26.

The project’s genesis stems from the community’s desire to receive more health and nutrition information. That was something residents and community leaders made clear in speaking with Tops officials while the store was being renovated following the shooting.

“When community leaders reached out to Tops during the reopening planning stages and voiced their desires to offer the community more options, not only from an accessibility to healthier food options standpoint, but an educational one as well, we knew that partnering with UB would be ideal for our customers,” said Tops’ Director of Pharmacy Matt Hamed. 

Tops approached Nicole Klem, director of UB’s clinical nutrition MS program, about partnering with the store to provide nutrition education to shoppers. Klem then engaged three students from the program, each of whom was nominated to the Alpha Eta Society, the national honor society for the allied health professions, to serve as coordinators for the project.

“It’s all about giving back and practicing the skills we’ve learned for community nutrition,” says Hannah Strassburg, a student in the program who has been coordinating the project along with fellow students Melissa Camp and Jessica Lewis.

Sign at the Jefferson Avenue Tops grocery store that reads "Talk nutrition with an expert.".

UB’s soon-to-be dietitians will be at the Jefferson Avenue Tops again Aug. 5, 8, 16 and 26, offering quick store tours, food samples and nutrition information and counseling. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

“We’ve been going over the new layout of the store, as well as discussing what to look for in the produce, meat and seafood sections, deli/bakery, frozen foods, canned foods, bread, cereal and grains, dairy, eggs, and spreads, and the snack section,” says Strassburg. “We also have handouts based on the topic of that week and recipe cards pertaining to that topic.”

“If they have questions while they’re shopping they can bring the item up to us and ask us about it,” adds Camp. “We’re just trying to provide people with whatever nutrition resources they want while they’re grocery shopping.”

When she gives shoppers’ quick tours of the store, Strassburg says she doesn’t limit them to certain sections (what’s called “shopping the perimeter of the store”). Instead, she asks each shopper what foods they like to eat. “It’s about creating a partnership instead of telling them what to eat,” she says. “So many times, especially in the health care profession, it can feel more authoritative.”

They’ve also been handing out food samples, and have a prize wheel shoppers can spin.

“When planning the store reopening, community members listed nutrition as being a priority in the new store experience,” says Lewis. “We want to help make the community members feel comfortable returning to this store.”

Edmunds, the former Buffalo judge, was happy he happened to stop by on a day the students were there. “I learned about the importance of eating a balanced fruit diet, and they told me about options for how I can freeze fruit to make it last longer,” he said.

Of course, being at the site of such a tragic event has been a sobering experience for the students.

“Obviously, it was very emotional coming here for the first time,” Camp says. “I know a lot of the students sat in our cars just to take it all in before we came into the store. The community has been really positive and welcoming, especially Tops employees — they’re really excited to have us here. Tops started this program because the community asked for more nutrition and health resources, so we volunteered to be here to help.”

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