Working as a dialysis patient care technician before starting graduate school at Salus University to focus on Physician Assistant (PA) Studies, Emily Poff ‘23PA, was aware individuals with kidney failure needed to follow strict dietary guidelines. However, Poff admits she truly didn’t appreciate all of the work that has to go into following a diet so tightly regulated.

Thanks to her volunteer time at the Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance (MANNA) of Philadelphia, now she better understands.

PA students volunteering at MANNAFor years — with a few years off due to the pandemic — students in the University’s PA program, which emphasizes experiential and service learning, have volunteered at MANNA.

The organization’s mission is to provide medically tailored meals to help improve health outcomes for those living with serious illness. This service learning experience affords PA students the opportunity to apply didactic content provided in the nutrition module of their Integrative Medicine course. “The clients MANNA serves have different medical conditions that require a particular diet, which means a lot of time and effort goes into preparing a meal that fits what each individual needs,” said Poff, a first-year PA student from Lebanon, Pennsylvania, who received her undergraduate degree in kinesiology from Temple University. “During my time at MANNA, I could truly appreciate the hard work and effort that the dietitians, chefs, and support staff put into preparing these individual meals.”

PA students volunteering at MANNAEach of the Salus PA class members spent an entire day at the non-profit organization as a service opportunity. The class was broken up into four groups — one group going each week — from mid-March to mid-April. James Kelly, MMS, PA-C, director of the Integrative Medicine course, supervised the students. 

Kiera Wells ‘23PA said her MANNA experience helped her apply concepts she has been learning in the classroom to a real-life situation. She recently completed the Integrative Medicine course where she learned about nutrition and how it directly impacts a patient's chronic medical conditions. “Many times, patients face obstacles to good nutrition such as disabling medical conditions that make it difficult to cook, financial barriers that make purchasing good ingredients hard, or difficulties physically getting to the grocery store,” said Wells, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “MANNA provides these patients with meals specifically tailored to their individual needs, without any financial cost or need to leave their home.”

PA students volunteering at MANNAWells called the MANNA experience “eye-opening.”

"As a future PA, I really appreciate the work that MANNA is doing in the community and it makes me excited to see a resource being offered to patients that help them take control of their own health by partaking in good nutrition,” said Wells, who earned her undergraduate degree in biology from Messiah University in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. “I am grateful for the opportunity I had to experience MANNA as I work toward becoming a well-rounded provider.”

Poff added that during her MANNA experience, she witnessed a group of individuals working together to build healthy meals for people who might not otherwise receive the nutrition they desperately need. After helping prepare the meals, Poff and some of her classmates also helped deliver the means, which she called “the most rewarding” part of the experience. “During our deliveries, I was also able to see how truly grateful MANNA’s clients are for this organization,” she said. “Every client that we interacted with greeted us with a warm smile and made us feel as though we were truly making an impact on their lives, even if it was just a small impact.”