The UMCOR Nutrition department was founded at 1999. All programs of the Nutrition department have the same goal: to combat hunger and support and empower vulnerable/disadvantaged people living in state institutions (special/boarding schools for handicapped and socially vulnerable children, retirement centers, orphanages, mental hospitals, and kindergartens for socially vulnerable children) and in targeted rural communities.
In1999 the Nutrition department started its programs with “Free cheese distribution programs” that still exists today. Over ten years this US State Department funded program distributes cheese to special institutions to improve diets of beneficiaries living in the institutions and to promote the market for local cheese producers.
Later (2000-2003, the Nutrition department implemented “Social Transition Program”, which aimed to improve diets of schoolchildren and university students by providing seasonal food assistance. 6,000 schoolchildren were supported with daily lunches.
In 2011 the Nutrition department started to work on the community level. Foods Resource Bank made it possible to work not only in special institutions, but also at Semyonovka, Anipemza and Ahnidzor communities of Armenia. The project addresses the vulnerability of families and the lack of self-sufficiency in food procurement of state-run institutions for their residents through provision of agricultural inputs and technical assistance.
As a short-term result, UMCOR envisions that the communities and institutions supported through the project will achieve food security through increased food accessibility and availability and utilization of more nutritious products for consumption. As a long-term result, families will obtain valuable knowledge and afford better healthcare for their dependents through generated incomes while institution staff will continue to provide nutritious diet to future residents. In the process, beneficiaries will develop self-confidence and fewer people will seek labor opportunities away from their homes.
"First Sprouts of Life"
Anipemza is one of the former Soviet industrial towns (well known for its pumice mines) that obtained the status of a village after the Republic of Armenia announced its independence. Its infrastructure is in a very poor shape. The low social-economic level of the community is explained by the lack of potable water, lack of land with agricultural value, as well as non-operating mines. The climate of cold winters and cool summers is typical for the region. Droughts and hail and its location in a seismic zone are hazards and risk factors for the community.
“The number of the population drastically went down in the last 20 years. The number of school age children has been declining and the community has registered more elderly in the total number of the population. At present 10-15 percent of working age men migrate for earning bread. This tendency is high among young families. Only 20% of the population is employed,” Harutyun Tarlanyan, the Head of the village voiced as a concern.
UMCOR’s FRB-funded program was highly welcomed by residents. The Mayor, other members of local government, and residents were excited by the details of the program.
There was a high rate of attendance to the first training despite the cold and snowy weather. Both men and women were happy for the occasion of meeting and even after completion of the training were not willing to go home but rather sit and share the good news about FRB program and challenges of the season. The women participants were happy for the good news of the developing project discussing benefits of farm expansion in the future. Even the School Director was asking to develop a similar project for the school to launch a school-feeding program. She also suggested planting trees in the schoolyard.
UMCOR visited all 28 families eligible for becoming program beneficiaries.
“The houses were built in the 1940s without any bathroom and toilet. There are multi-member families where $100 USD equivalent monthly pensions of retired grandparents are the only source of income. The families borrow money to survive the whole month until receiving and paying back the debts,” stated one of employees of the village administration.
Despite the cold and snowy weather, the targeted families were enthusiastic for the meeting. The day of chicken and feed distribution raised hopes in family members. Women were crying silently saying “we see light now.” Despite being desolate, the early spring had brought hope in the eyes of people, similar to FRB’s logo of a sprouting bean—established farms will be like first sprouts of life for these families.