Nutritionist Monica Davis, who joined Loaves & Fishes’ staff in 2020, has been enthralled with food her entire life. Monica comes from a big Minnesota family and helped her mom, an excellent cook, prepare the family meals. When a dietitian from a local hospital spoke about her career in dietetics at Monica’s high school 4H meeting, Monica was astounded to learn there was a job that combined her love of food and nutrition!
In college, Monica loved her science classes and considered becoming a doctor. But when she came home, all she wanted to do was cook! When she learned she could major in nutrition, combining her interest in science and food—she knew that was the path for her. Her program included a post-graduate one-year internship which provided her experience in the hospital as well as the community.
After college, Monica worked for five years in the Albemarle County Schools as a child nutrition specialist, creating menus and working with employees in the school lunch program. She left the role when she had children and then when her youngest child was in her early teens, Monica looked for ways of getting back into the profession.
Given her love of food, nutrition, and community, Monica began volunteering at Loaves & Fishes, starting as a Client Guide. She observed that visitors often would not take produce they were not familiar with. She realized there needed to be a way to educate clients about how to prepare the variety of produce that Loaves & Fishes provide to its visitors. She asked the executive director if she could provide food samples and recipes to help visitors try unusual foods such as avocado, mango, and cauliflower. Since 2016, Monica has been giving food demonstrations in the waiting room or parking lot so that visitors can see how to prepare some of the produce being distributed that day.
During our current, drive-thru operations, Monica works with volunteers to sort donated produce and create a list of nutrient-dense options to be included in grocery bags. Monica also creates a short newsletter with recipes to send home with each visitor.
Monica also helps receive food donations from local organizations, farmers, and individuals, saying “Many farmers and backyard gardeners have been extremely generous, bringing a couple of bushels of persimmons or a couple of bags of cherry tomatoes to share with our visitors.” When there is an overabundance of food, she helps redirect excess donations to other organizations, including Abundant Life Ministries, the Salvation Army, UVa Dining, and other local pantries and churches.
Monica said, “Many clouds have silver linings—and that’s true here. Our visitors are getting more – and more varied—types of produce now. My big drive is taking the fear out of cooking! It’s quite easy to make healthy and delicious food. People see all the beautiful food on Instagram and get scared and think they can’t do it!” She also noted that cooking can be a family activity, and there is great pride when a family sits down together to enjoy their food.
Thanks to Monica’s passion and creativity, Loaves & Fishes’ visitors have easy and tasty recipes to make at home from the food they receive at each visit. And with her recipes*, they are likely to try – and like! – new foods.
*Loaves & Fishes wish list item: broad translation of Monica’s recipes to reach more visitors in their languages and help them eat more healthily.