The global COVID-19 pandemic has made many of us more conscious of the threats surrounding us every day, and not just threat of the virus itself. Many people are becoming more aware of the food they eat and the health impacts of their nutritional choices, but with that awareness comes questions.
Fortunately, UConn Extension educator Zoraida Velazquez is answering those questions for Bridgeport-area residents every Friday morning on Radio Amor/Radio Love 690 AM, dispensing nutritional advice and guidance to help the community improve their health and wellbeing.
Zoraida, an educator in the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (UConn EFNEP), joined UConn Extension in 1978. EFNEP helps families learn about healthy eating, shopping on a budget, cooking, and physical activity. She began her career in UConn Extension’s New London County office before moving back to the New Haven County office. Zoraida grew up in New Haven and is well-known in the community.
“I’m always involved in the community because I love working with people in need,” Zoraida, who has been a pastor for 43 years and currently serves in that role, along with her husband, in Wallingford, says.
Zoraida began working with Radio Amor in 2015. She had a weekly ten-minute spot called Salud y Nutrition where she answered listeners’ questions. The station manager initiated the program with the goal of bringing services to the community.
At the time, Zoraida had help from Keyla Negron a nutritional science major in the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources who heard the program in 2016 and called the Extension office to learn more. Negron went down to the New Haven County office during her summer break and helped Zoraida with the radio show as a volunteer, preparing answers for each week’s questions and resources to share with listeners.
The program remained popular with listeners, but following administrative changes at the station in 2017, the show, along with many others, was discontinued.
In January of 2020, Javier Cabrera, the new manager of Radio Amor, reached out to Zoraida. “He remembered hearing the program and told me that it was very informative to the Spanish community, and he wanted to bring back this and other programs for the listeners to benefit from,” she says. “Radio Amor is a Christian radio station, but it’s open to the community with no discrimination to color or race.”
The show quickly resumed, with the first episode airing on March 6, 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic briefly halted it for a second time. It took a couple of months, but in mid-May, Radio Amor had adjusted to the challenges created by the pandemic, and Zoraida is back on the air for twenty minutes a week, answering nutrition-related questions for listeners.
“I started in March with MyPlate,” Zoraida says. “I wanted to go back to the basics with the listeners. Then we progressed into the importance of families eating together at the table. I encouraged moms to take advantage of helping their children with healthy eating.”
Other popular topics include stretching the food budget and learning what to make from products that are on hand. Zoraida recalls one person calling in to say that they used to make arroz con leche when things were tough, and white rice with just eggs because there was not enough money for other food products.
“Zoraida Velazquez has been such a blessing to Radio Amor for many years,” says Javier Cabrera, the Operations Manager at Radio Amor. “Pastor Velazquez shares very helpful and important information with our audience, educating them on how to stay healthy. Radio Amor is honored to have Pastor Velazquez as one of our educators empowering our community with the necessary resources to help them stay healthy.”
Zoraida’s 20-minute radio show is rarely long enough to answer all the questions, and regularly becomes a 45-minute segment. Zoraida stays on the air until she’s answered all of the questions listeners have.
“When I came back on air in May after the break because of coronavirus, food safety was understandably a hot topic,” Zoraida explains. “We started talking about foodborne illness. Questions I received included whether or not it was okay to leave food out, understanding what to do if there is food recall because of E. coli or salmonella. Other people wanted to know where they could go for food assistance, or how they could participate in EFNEP. Parents want to know how to get their children to eat more vegetables.”
Topics continue evolving, and Zoraida tailors each program to the needs of her listeners. For example, she recently did a segment on the importance of keeping the body hydrated since many of her listeners admitted that they didn’t like drinking water unless it was flavored. She’s received numerous questions about energy drinks and Zoraida encourages parents not to let their teenagers consume energy drinks because they can be harmful.
UConn Extension’s EFNEP staff works statewide to empower participants and provide knowledge and skills to improve the health of all family members. Participants learn through doing, with cooking, physical activity and supportive discussions about nutrition and healthy habits. Although in-person programming is currently limited, all our EFNEP staff continue working in their communities and serving residents.
Zoraida exemplifies the spirit of service and community assistance that the EFNEP program is known for. Zoraida and other EFNEP staff understand the needs of the communities they are serving because they live and work in these communities.
“Salud y Nutrición is one of the best segments we air weekly, understanding the need for health education in our community,” Javier continues. “We want to thank UConn Extension for allowing Pastor Velazquez to share her knowledge and years of experience as a Nutrition Educator. Today, we can say that thousands of our listeners have benefited from her knowledge. Radio Love is here to help and serve our community and Pastor Velazquez has been a vessel to our community.”
Questions related to food and nutrition will continue to arise. Zoraida is ready and waiting for them each Friday morning on Radio Amor, or through another channel with UConn EFNEP. Additional resources from the EFNEP program are available online.
UConn CAHNR Extension has more than 100 years’ experience strengthening communities in Connecticut and beyond. Extension programs address the full range of issues set forth in CAHNR’s strategic initiatives:
- Ensuring a vibrant and sustainable agricultural industry and food supply
- Enhancing health and well-being locally, nationally, and globally
- Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces
- Advancing adaptation and resilience in a changing climate.
Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities.