10859961490?profile=RESIZE_710xDebra Tendrich shows off hand-painted grocery bags from her nonprofit, Eat Better Live Better, in Delray Beach. Photo provided

By Janis Fontaine

Debra Tendrich says she started her nonprofit, Eat Better Live Better, in 2016 because it was the right thing to do.
But never before has feeding the hungry been so hard. The coronavirus pandemic struck a solid blow, drying up donations and overwhelming food pantries with new clients at the same time.
Now the inflation numbers on groceries — 13% nationally but closer to 11% locally — are twisting the knife.
Tendrich started Eat Better Live Better to provide more than mere calories to food-insecure families.
“Malnutrition isn’t a lack of food,” Tendrich said, “but a lack of nutrition.” Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients that come from vegetables are key to healthful eating, and food pantries often don’t have those things.
Tendrich grew up in Atlanta, cooking and eating Southern comfort foods like mac-and-cheese and fried chicken. But a 30-day office challenge in healthy eating and exercise stuck with her. Tendrich realized she felt better even though she hadn’t felt bad before.
But the kicker was that her daughter, Amira, then in grade school, felt better, too. She’d had rashes and stomach issues and had even been diagnosed with ADHD, but those issues disappeared along with the high-fat, sodium-laden and sugary comfort foods.
As she learned more about nutrition, Tendrich became more concerned about childhood obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Disease and poor nutrition go hand-in-hand, she says, and breaking up that toxic relationship is a priority.
To do that, positive attitudes about food need to be taught early. For example, teaching kids that food is a synonym for happiness with celebratory pizza parties and food rewards is wrong, Tendrich says, and needs to change.
At the other end of the spectrum, Tendrich says that our neighbors — especially seniors on fixed incomes — are being devastated by the rising cost of groceries. Her program tries to fill the gap between income and need so seniors aren’t forced to choose between paying for their rent and medications or groceries.
Tendrich addressed another problem: transportation. The neediest members of our community don’t or can’t drive (maybe they can’t afford gas or car insurance), and some are medically unable to come to Tendrich’s facility in Delray Beach. EBLB and Door Dash have teamed up to deliver groceries to people who live within a 10-mile radius of the facility, which is near the corner of Military Trail and Atlantic Avenue.
Eat Better Live Better was the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce Nonprofit of the Year in 2021, and Tendrich is personally nominated for its Crystal Palm award this year. She’s also a frequent speaker about nutrition and homelessness.
Most of EBLB’s clients are referred by churches and synagogues, schools and teachers, medical professionals and the police, who identify people who need help.
Recipients register with EBLB and on distribution day are provided with a big purple bag full of produce, oatmeal, peanut butter, canned tuna and chicken, pasta and pasta sauce — and more, depending on the size of the family. Delivery is the first Friday of the month with emergency deliveries on other weekdays.
EBLB had to cut back from twice-a-month giveaways, with prices up and donations down.
“Everyone who is registered is guaranteed food,” Tendrich said. “We don’t run out of food.”
Volunteers — about 15 year-round and another three dozen who show up during the winter — pack the grocery bags, break bulk supplies into smaller portions, and staff the front desk when clients arrive.
Jackie Ermola served as president of St. Vincent Ferrer’s Care Ministry in Delray Beach for nearly eight years, and continues to serve the homeless community. Of Eat Better Live Better, she said, “It’s not like every other pantry. Debra serves people who have dietary restrictions. People can’t eat a lot of the food given out at other pantries. She really struck me as someone who is making Delray a better place.”
Ermola says that Delray Beach is special because its groups work together to serve the community. They communicate and brainstorm and strategize and cross-refer clients. “We all collectively work together, the police, the schools, the places of worship,” she said.
Tendrich and Ermola share a philosophy: “People deserve to be treated with dignity.”
Ermola says, “It only takes one bad break to go from happy to homeless. I’ve seen it happen and it could happen to anyone.”
If you’d like to help Tendrich feed people or if you need help, call Eat Better Live Better at 561-344-1022 or visit www.eblb.org.
Ermola is also acting as a consultant helping people who would like to start a food pantry. Contact her at jermola@hotmail.com.

Janis Fontaine writes about people of faith, their congregations, causes and community events. Contact her at fontaine423e@outlook.com.

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