Let's Talk: UNLV Food Pantry Farmers Market 1 Year Anniversary with Cindy Romina Ballesteros-Paniagua, UNLV Student and Food Pantry Creator

You're listening to locally produced programming created in KUNV Studios on Public Radio. KUNV 91.5. Welcome to another segment of Let's Talk UNRV on KUNV. You're with co-hosts Keith and Tanya.

Tanya, how was your weekend? It was pretty good. You know, I engaged in some self-care. By self-care, I meant I left my house and went for the occasional walk and had pizza.

What kind of pizza?


Don't weep for me. I found a really great gluten-free restaurant.

Now, do you have a certain location? I was gonna ask you, like there a certain pizza you like from a certain location?

I do, and I'm sad that I can't remember their actual name, but my son brought me some gluten-free pizza from it. It's over by Craig right off of 95 and it is a great like Italian pizza place so I did not even know that I was

having gluten-free pizza. It was wonderful. And we usually do pizza on Friday nights as well and it's always an argument on where are we getting the pizza from because the kids like pizza from two different locations, the wife like pieces from a different location, and then I usually don't care much. I just as long as it's got what I want on the piece, I can work with it. So it's always an argument. Rock, paper, scissors.

How do you resolve the struggle? Like, how do you think Rebecca decides?

You know, we know we have a voice, but she decides. So she's not there. Then we can error. But if she's involved in the conversation, then we're getting pizza from Rosati's. I love it. I love it.

But how was your weekend?

I mean, so you say you had the pizza. So what I ended up doing this weekend, I spent most of the weekend working on my car. So whenever I can sort of do some DIY, turn a little wrench here and there. So I spent most of my weekend in the garage and it was just great to just break away from work and left the phone in the house. Tell the kids don't come out in the garage. So wait, what kind of car are you working on? Well, I'm restoring a 2003 BMW M3 convertible.


Yep, so I got coil-overs I've had and some new rotors, brakes, so.

Wow. She sounds amazing. I hope to see pictures.

Well, I'm hoping to put it on the road this weekend. Okay. This coming weekend, maybe I may drive to California, so.

Oh, that is wonderful.

And my goal is to get it all fully restored so I can go to Beamer Fest in California.

Beamer Fest.

That's the goal this summer.

Okay, I'll be looking for pictures. So, we are here in the studio today with Marissa Weisbuck, dietetic intern, Kayla Cabral, dietetic intern, and Romina Belastros, food pantry worker and coordinator of the food pantry and the farmer's market. So, ladies, can you please share with us your origin stories? How did you come to be at UNLV and how did you come to this work?

So, hi, I'm Romina. Thank you so much for that nice introduction. So, I came to UNLV in 2019. Right after high school, I went straight into university. So, initially when I came here, I started as a pre-nutrition major. So in high school I did some nutrition classes and I just fell in love with nutrition since then. So how I came to be with the food pantry, I started volunteering there because an organization that I was a part of, which is the Student Nutrition and Dietetics Association, they were promoting volunteering at the food pantry. So I started volunteering there in March of 2021 and the pandemic was still a really big issue during that time. So there wasn't a lot of volunteers. So I was like, you know what, I can go and help out and see what I can do there. And I started volunteering there. I fell in love with the community there and just the mission, which is to combat food insecurity. And so eventually I got hired there in August and I've been with the food pantry ever since then. And I'm currently now a senior.

Oh, wow. Glad to have you on board.

Thank you.

So, hi, I'm Marissa. I'm a dietetic intern along with Kayla here. So we're actually new to UNLV. We are transplants from California, enjoying the program so much. We are in our community rotation, which happens to be at the Nutrition Center. I'm getting to work alongside our fearless leader here have to give the biggest shout out to Romina Ballesteros because we have just learned, we've been, we were involved in the first farmers market of this year and then just recently learned that this was an of Romina's, she saw a need in the community and also in our campus community that needed to be fulfilled. And she had the idea of, you know, getting these food distributors, you know, having these partnerships, you know, partnerships with Walmart and Target and through Three Square, which is a wonderful food banking distributor. And so, yes, we owe it all to her. Our community is benefiting because her ideas came to fruition, and now here we are. And we are about to celebrate our one-year anniversary since this all began. So we are more than delighted to be here to support her and also to get the word out about the food pantry. Many, many students we've come to realize do not realize that we have a wonderful food pantry that they can partake from. So we wanna spread the word and also these, you know, giving out free food to the community. What better could we be doing with our time? And so we are just so excited. And this food farmers market is going to have many different organizations throughout the town. So we're really looking forward to it.

Hi everyone, I'm Kayla, the other dietetic intern. I'm originally from California, and I applied to UNLV because I saw that they had a very good clinical internship to be a dietitian, and I liked how it was also close to home. And yeah, right now we're in our community rotation, and Romina is helping guide us through working with the food pantry. And it's really nice. Like I have never worked in a food pantry before, but I've worked in food service, so it's a very different perspective and it feels a lot more gratifying. Very different from a hospital, so I'm happy I got to work with a food pantry and be able to do the Farmer's Market event. It's very fun.

Robina, could you share for our listeners sort of the relationship between the food pantry and the farmers market. And then we'll get more into detail about your vision for the farmers market.

Yes, of course. So the food pantry is a resource here on campus for these students, staff, and faculty members. So they're welcome to come and obtain perishable and non-perishable food items once a week. And it's free of cost. So whenever these individuals come, they don't have to pay for anything, and we don't really ask for any form of employment or financial situation. Anyone is welcome to come and obtain food from there. And so, as I mentioned, the food pantry helps out the UNOV community. So we saw that there was a high need of of help within the community. We saw that food insecurity within the Las Vegas community has been really prevalent, especially with the pandemic that, you know, we just kind of went through. So it was an initiative that started with myself and then also our past food pantry coordinator, Mackenzie Mayer. So we ended up creating this farmer's market event, which was just like a little side event that we have where it's always on the weekends and it's always on the second Saturday of every month, unless something happens and we need to change it, but it's always on the second Saturday. And it's a collaboration between Three Square, as well as the Student Nutrition Dietetics Association, the Food Pantry, and the Udall v. Garden. And so at that event, we're able to help out our Udall v. community, but also our Las Vegas community. And anyone is welcome to come, and they receive free food items at no cost and they can receive both perishable and non-perishable food items.

Wow, you're quite the visionary. Thank you for sharing that this was your vision that came to fruition and you're brand new, huh? Like you're coming up on your anniversary. I don't know what the one year anniversary marker is, is it paper? I don't know. But you're coming up on your anniversary. Can you tell us some more about, I know that you talked about being in love with nutrition and the food situation and about us, so talk to me about what it took to bring your vision to life.

Yeah, so this all started off as an independent study in the nutrition program here at UNLV. So the nutrition program is a wonderful program. There are so many wonderful things in that program and the professors there are just absolutely amazing. So, um, for an independent study, you can do a paper on any topic that you want or a project. And myself, I'm not really a big paper person. I'm more of a project person. So initially, um, when I was thinking about what to do, I was like, I want to involve the, um, my passion, which is nutrition, but also do something with my job. Cause I work at the food pantry. So when we created this idea of having a food distribution event that would help out our Las Vegas community as well, it kind of started off as an idea. And so we ended up just kind of working out the kinks and the turns and stuff. And our first distribution event was in February of 2021, excuse me, 2022. So we are currently about to celebrate our one year anniversary this month. And we've been hosting it on a monthly occasion, so it's always on the second Saturday. So we are so excited to have this event because we've celebrated one year of giving out food and helping combat that food insecurity issue that we have here in Las Vegas. And so we always have free food that we're giving out, but because it is a one year anniversary, we wanted to make this event a little bit more special. So we've asked other organizations around Las Vegas to come participate in our event, such as for instance, Anthem Health, Liberty Dental, the UNLV Nutrition Center, and so many more organizations will be joining us. And it's gonna be all free of cost, so anyone is welcome to come, all ages, families of all ages. So we really do want everyone to come and check out this event to obtain free food, but also to obtain free educational materials from all the organizations coming.

Marissa or Kayla, could you share a little bit about, I know you're doing rotations, and could you share a little bit about sort of when this site was in the rotation and sort of what you were expecting to experience and what you've experienced thus far, and, you know, where there may have been some surprises,

good or bad?

Gosh, I think I was just really excited to, you know, we all got kind of dispersed, our cohort, you know, so we got the Nutrition Center here at UNLV. And I knew that it was going to involve learning about, you know, the prevalence of food insecurity. But I didn't realize that it would also include all the surrounding areas, which has been really, really eye-opening. And yeah, our involvement at the food pantry, we are going to have, there's so many wonderful things, not only the farmers market, but a Rebel Apron event where we are going to basically, after Blue Apron, so you get your bag of free groceries, you get a recipe in that bag. So we create a recipe and everything is included in that bag. And so you can just take it home and, you know, minimal preparation and all the information right there. So I absolutely didn't realize I could have such a hands-on means to provide not only food, but cooking literacy, food literacy. Through our videos, we're going to be our lovely president of the SNDA Nutrition Association. Yes. He's going to be preparing for everybody via video and we are going to be supporting in that. So it's going to be a really cool event and but this farmers market, oh it's been a joy and being a part of the volunteer group we've been so lucky to be a part of such a good vibes thing. I was paired with a gentleman who actually graduated from UNLV, but he always comes back and volunteers for the farmers market. So it's just such a good vibe and we hope to see you there. You hit the rotation jackpot? Yes, absolutely.

Absolutely. So it does sound like you hit the rotation jackpot. Were there any surprises when doing this work that you didn't expect or were anticipated about doing this kind of work? You know, basically this high service need for this community. What surprised you about it?

Well, I've learned that 45% of the student body here experiences food insecurity, which is a huge percentage. And it's, you know, it's sobering. There's a lot of good that we can do with the farmer's market and through the food pantry. So you know there I've looked into the research. There is a lot of research about university students. We also provide for the faculty and staff as well of UNLV. There isn't a lot of, you know, information, research, peer-reviewed research out there about the food insecurity amongst staff and faculty, but we are working. Kayla and I developed a survey, totally anonymous, and and further assessing the needs of the people who come into the food pantry. But again, I think the main goal is to have everybody aware that the food pantry exists, that they can come and partake. Again, the farmers market is not only for university campus community, but also for the entire Las Vegas community, we just want to really get the word out and that's our most important mission.

And then Romina, could you talk a little bit about like the manpower that it takes to execute this event on a monthly basis? And I know you've sort of taken it up a notch like Vegas style for the one year anniversary with all the additional partners that's going to be on site, but could you just talk a little bit about in general like what it takes to

conduct one of these events successfully? Yeah, there's so much that goes into this event. So one of the things that we initially had to do when creating this event was a flyer and a flyer that was eye-catching so that the population would be like, oh what is that? Let's see what that is all you know, and definitely gathering volunteers is something that we always try to do for the farmers market. We would not be able to do this event without our wonderful volunteers and we've had volunteers from so many organizations such as the Student Nutrition Dietetics Association, the Nutrition Center, the Air Force ROTC program here at UNLV, the UNLV the Udall v. Garden, and just so many more. And what we do to gather volunteers is, initially, when we first started off, it was a little tricky getting volunteers, I will say that, just because it was just such a new idea. But eventually, when we were reaching out to different organizations here on campus, asking if they were interested in volunteering, they were like, yeah, of course, we love to come out to volunteer. And that's how we got some volunteers. And we started a volunteer email list where we always reach out to them and see if anyone is interested to volunteer. But we always have people who come to the food pantry who are interested in volunteering. And we're like, oh, we have this wonderful event that you could come out to volunteer. Also on our social media, as you always promote anyone who's interested in volunteering to come and help us out. It really does take a lot of manpower for this event to run because our volunteers help to distribute the food and they help to put the food items in the cars because we have both a drive up and a walk up option so they help out our walk up individuals by putting it into their bags or into their carts and then if they are the drive up option then they help to put those items in the back of the cars. So, and we always have volunteers for each of the different sections of food items that we have, and we always have our volunteers answering any additional questions that they might have. So that's definitely so much help that we get, and we really, really do appreciate it. And then, just on my end, there's a lot of deafening that goes behind the scenes, such as the flyer that we always promote, as well as promoting it through our social medias. You can find us on Instagram, Facebook, and also on TikTok. And also just some like behind the scenes of getting all the equipment to the day of the event as well. So yeah, there's a lot that definitely goes into it, but we've kind of managed to get the groove of how everything works. So it's easy flowing now, but I will say in the soon we started, it was a little tricky, but everything's been flowing pretty nicely.

You should see Romina in action. She just, she's so well organized. She, you know, she delegates so beautifully. Um, and she looks after us so much. And this farmers market, this one-year anniversary, so usually there's a drive up option but this one is going to be a bit different because we're having all of these wonderful organizations coming. We are going to be walk-up only So please bring your reusable bags, your carts, anything that will make it easier for you to carry your stuff or, yeah, with a cart will be great. But we're all behind you, Romina. Thank you.

students because 45% is very sobering. As you mentioned, as a population of students, so I'm thinking that that many students because, you know, if you're not fed, you can't think if you can't think you can't learn. And I love looking at the way that you have this synergy that you've expanded it to not only feeding your body, but also feeding you with information that can keep you healthy and whole. So I guess one of the questions that I have is, so how do we support you? Like, what can we do on this end, either promotionally or to keep this wonderful work going?

Yeah, we definitely would love promotion. That's our biggest thing, is we always wanna reach out to more individuals. So promoting it would mean the absolute world to us just because we always hold this on a monthly basis so it's always happening on the second Saturday unless something happens and it'll be the third Saturday but it'll always be happening we have not had any event that we've had a cancel we've been there through the rain through the heat through the windy days we will be there for no matter what weather occasion we have so promotion definitely helps. If anyone is interested in volunteering, definitely sending them our way. You can always contact us through our social medias. Our social media handle for Instagram is unlv.foodpantry. And then on Facebook it's just unlvfoodpantry. And you can also email us at the food.pantry at unlv.edu email.

And then, you know, through this work, what are some of the conversations you're having with the recipients of, you know, bringing this to fruition, you know, those who are coming in to sort of be able to collect these items on site? What's some of the feedback you receive from those?

Yeah, so many of the individuals that come to these events and obtain the food are just grateful for this event just because especially with the pandemic so many families lost their jobs. So it was really hard to to be able to go buy food. So having this event help them so much to decrease their cost for food and actually be able to feed their families and I mean, especially now with inflation happening with food. It's just a wonderful event to have and obtain food just because, you know, food is expensive nowadays and some individuals just can't make ends meet with their jobs. So this is just a supplementary event that we have to help out as many individuals as we can and Three Square does an amazing job of helping us out with that and they have done so much during the pandemic. Like Three Square is

absolutely amazing. So, what's the best way to get in touch with you to contact you? I know that you mentioned your social media handle. What are some ways that people who want to get involved can find to get involved with this program and to support it?

Yeah, definitely through our social medias, as I previously mentioned, in our email. We are always answering our emails, so our email is food.pantry.unlv.edu. That's the best way to contact us. And then also our social medias, like our Instagram handle is unlv.foodpantry. You can always send us a direct message on there. And then also on Facebook, you can direct message us there. And our Facebook is just unlvfoodpantry. And you can come directly to our facility and come and ask questions and ask how you can be involved. And our location is 4646 University Center Drive and our intersecting roads are University Center Drive and Naples. So you can always come and visit our facility and we can always give you a tour of our facility and how that looks like.

Yeah, the facility is so cool. There's nutrition, education everywhere. You are... are the aisles and shelves are organized so that you're getting something from every major food group and you're also things are labeled like you should have this sometimes or rarely or often so you know it's giving you a guide for health and it makes it easy so you just come in you just sign up, you can shop right then and there. Everything is free. And yeah, I love how how the whole thing is, is lined up like that, so that you can, when you're out and about and shopping for yourself in a supermarket, you can apply some of those principles that you've learned in the food pantry for for the rest of your life. And yeah, it's all about balance with nutrition and the food pantry makes balance easy.

All right, we'll get you out of here.

We'll give you the last word. So are there any questions you wish we had asked that we didn't ask? I don't think there's any questions that were left out.

I think you guys did a wonderful job asking questions, but just the last word is Please come out to our event either as a volunteer or just to attend this event Because it's going to be a really wonderful event to celebrate our one-year anniversary And it's going to be on February 11th from 11 a.m. To 1 p.m. And it'll be located at lot T which is the parking lot located in front of the San Fulton Gaming Institute and it's free of cost and just come out and just join us and you can bring your family, your kids, your neighbors, anyone who might be interested in this event to come and check us out and we will be posting our our flyer tonight on our social media so please check us out on our social medias and if you are on campus you will have physical flyers around campus so be on the lookout for that and there's a QR code on there just to scan for additional information.

Fantastic, thank you.

Thank you.

For more Let's Talk UNLV, be sure to follow us on social media where you can get the latest updates on the show plus great behind the scenes content. We're on Facebook at Let's Talk UNLV Podcast, Twitter at Let's Talk UNLV, and Instagram We're on Facebook at Let's Talk UNLV Podcast, Twitter at Let's Talk UNLV, and Instagram at Let's Talk UNLV Pod.

Transcribed with Cockatoo

Let's Talk: UNLV Food Pantry Farmers Market 1 Year Anniversary with Cindy Romina Ballesteros-Paniagua, UNLV Student and Food Pantry Creator
Broadcast by