WEST OAKLAND, CA – When you see the humanitarian work that Hana Shirriel has accomplished, you’re not surprised at all that the 29-year-old LifeLong Medical Care employee has recently been awarded a SF Bay Area Albert Schweitzer Fellowship.
When she heard that students at West Oakland Middle School were complaining about headaches and stomachaches because they were hungry and hadn’t eaten breakfast, she took action. Now 98% of the children at West Oakland Middle School have a hot breakfast.
Because of her respect and sensitivity to people, 60 families each week now come to the food pantry at the West Oakland Middle School (WOMS). They can select nutritious foods – products that they like -- geared to improving diseases like hypertension and diabetes.
Founded in 2006, the San Francisco Bay Area Fellows Program is one of fourteen Schweitzer program sites across the U. S. dedicated to preparing the next generation of professionals who will serve and empower vulnerable people to live healthier lives and create healthier communities..
Shirriel works full-time for LifeLong Medical Care as Adolescent Services Supervisor, running the food pantry at WOMS. She is a master’s in public health (MPH) student at San Francisco State University, taking classes at night. She is the only MPH student of the Bay Area Fellows, most of whom are medical students.
“The Fellows are amazing people who are doing great things. But my public health view of things is so different than how a medical student thinks,” said Shirriel. “I hope I can bring something to these other people so they can better understand how interventions and systemic issues can help the community.”
SF Bay Area Schweitzer Fellowship is a highly competitive program that selects graduate students from across the Bay Area to spend a year creating, implementing, evaluating, and sustaining a community service project related to health.
Shirriel’s project will build off the work she does running the food pantry. “I will be creating a healthy community cook book using recipes from West Oakland families,” the majority of whom are African American and Yemeni, she says. “The plan is to sit down with families, discuss their recipes, assist them in incorporating healthier changes (if necessary), collaborate on cooking classes, and provide health education around nutrition and health conditions.”
“I’m really excited about it. I think it will be great,” says Shirriel, who says she first did a survey asking families if they were interested in sharing recipes and doing a cookbook.
The Richmond native says she is able to build trust and respect with the people who come to the food pantry because she understands their situation. She herself utilized public support and services from a young age. It was not until she went to college that she found the words for what she had experienced: “Oh, this is what social disparity is. This is what inequity is. It really clicked for me in college,” she says.
Shirriel bristles at the ploy that some school administrations have used, trying to leverage free school meals as incentive for students to behave well or to attend school on time. “It doesn’t work well for us,” she said.
At the food pantry, Shirriel greets clients and asks their opinion. “I’m very social with my families. You have to treat people with respect -- it’s not a shaming process. I thank them for coming and learn everybody’s name. I always say hello when I see them out in the community.”
Patrons have input on what kinds of food are stocked in the pantry. She did a survey with families, asking what kind of foods were helpful or what they needed in order to cook their family’s favorite recipes.
As she did with getting the free breakfast program at West Oakland Middle School, Shirriel is not afraid to advocate for a cause. She attended St. Mary’s High School in Berkeley as part of the Making Waves Education Program. “It fostered the fighter in me.”
The Schweitzer Fellowship culminates in Fellows becoming equipped to carry out important health ventures in the community once they complete their academic programs. They receive a great deal of mentoring during the year and workshops in leadership development, cultural awareness, engaging with the community, and other topics relevant to the work they are undertaking.
After she graduates, Shirriel thinks she would like to continue to work in the Bay Area. Her MPH has a community focus with social justice. “I like being in the thick of it.”
About LifeLong Medical Care: LifeLong Medical Care is an innovative, non-profit Federally Qualified Health Center serving Alameda, Contra Costa, and Marin Counties with 14 health centers, two Dental Centers, an Adult Day Health Center, three school-based health centers, a Supportive Housing Program, and Urgent Care services. For more information visit: www.lifelongmedical.org.