Donna Sagan-Hortz is a nutrition educator in the UF/IFAS Extension Family Nutrition Program (FNP) and a certified food protection manager in Pinellas County, where she teaches residents how to prepare healthy meals on a budget.
A trained chef with decades of experience in the food service industry, Donna helps her fellow FNP educators with their cooking technique (cooking demonstrations are a staple in FNP classes). What’s more, she’s ready to pick up the phone whenever there’s a minor cooking emergency on the other line.
“I call it ‘chef time,’ meaning the chef is always available,” Donna says with a laugh, recalling the meringues and Thanksgiving turkeys she’s helped rescue over the years.
Donna’s passion for helping others through food extends beyond her role in FNP. On her own time, she and local chef Dave Jones lead 1 More Plate, a nonprofit volunteer organization that prepares and delivers hot, healthy meals to underserved communities. Last year alone, 1 More Plate delivered approximately 26,000 pounds of food to residents in Pinellas and Pasco counties.
Donna and Dave recently shared their experience on StoryCorps. You may have heard some of their story on your local NPR station, but if not, you can listen to the whole conversation on the StoryCorps website.
“I hope the StoryCorps episode will inspire others to give back in some way,” Donna said.
The pandemic brought out the real continuing need for food assistance, she added.
“For some of our community members, it’s not easy to pop into a grocery store and get what you need. Now put the pandemic on top of that, and you have an extra challenge,” Donna said.
While FNP and 1 More Plate are separate efforts, they both aim to help increase people’s access to nutritious food. Donna puts her FNP knowledge to work when planning 1 More Plate’s menus: less salt and saturated fat, more fruits and vegetables, fiber and lean protein.
“When you’re in commercial food service, you’re always on a budget. You have to be as efficient as you can with the ingredients you have,” Donna said. “So, there’s another parallel between what I teach in my classes and how we cook for 1 More Plate.”
FNP is also what brought Donna and Dave together: The two met when Donna was staffing a table for FNP at the Florida Sherriff’s Youth Ranch, where Dave and his wife Lila have volunteered.
“I’m 83-years old, and I feel like I’ve been a chef forever,” Dave said. “When I retired, I wanted to make sure I was contributing. I’m privileged to be a part of 1 More Plate. I feel all of us can help others in some way. Use your talents wherever you can.”
Donna and Dave emphasized that 1 More Plate is more than just the two of them. A network of volunteers in Pinellas County sources donated food from local suppliers and helps transform it into healthy meals. These meals might be served at community center events or distributed through local aid organizations and senior residential living sites. When the call comes, they work together to make sure no food goes to waste.
“Sometimes it’s, ‘I’ve got 500 pounds of tomatoes, can you take it?” Donna said. “And we figure out how to make it work and get it to those who need it.”