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Cairo food donation garden work wins award for community champion

Woman receiving an award

URBANA, Ill. – An Extension employee’s work to fight food insecurity in her community has earned her Extension’s Excellence in Diversity Award.

Sarita Sawyer, community outreach worker, has been very instrumental in recruiting diverse volunteers for the Cairo Pilot Food Donation Garden. Last year, the group produced more than 700 pounds of food that was harvested by volunteers and delivered to Day Star Emergency Food Pantry to be distributed into the community.

Sawyer conducts some of her SNAP-Ed programs in the garden with families, providing  them with interactive activities, a healthy snack, a recipe, and resourceful signup opportunities.

In addition to her work in the garden, Sarita leads nutrition classes for SNAP-Ed eligible audiences. Some of those topics include buying food on a budget and smart shopping for fruit and vegetables. The goal is to help eligible families make positive changes in their health and provide them with resources to access local agencies for assistance in their communities.

“Sarita has a great reputation and is highly respected in the community,” says Jody Johnson, Extension county director. “University of Illinois Extension is fortunate to have an employee as dedicated to their work.”

Her reputation in the community is instrumental with finding volunteers to work in the garden, Johnson says. 

The Excellence in Diversity Award is presented to an individual whose accomplishments achieve organizational changes that support diversity, pluralism, and innovation in programs that impact Extension audiences. 

PHOTO: Sarita Sawyer, right, received the 2022 Extension Diversity in Excellence Award from Extension Director Shelly Nickols-Richardson during the Illinois Extension Annual Conference held in November in Urbana.

ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.

WRITER: Judy Mae Bingman, Extension Communications Advisor and Web Content Strategist
SOURCE: Elisha Hughes, Extension Workforce Professional and Training Development Associate