Get to know Ben, Food Outreach Board Member


Get to know Ben, Food Outreach Board Member

Food Outreach board member, Ben Cooper, is Co-Director for Public Health Data and Training Center in the Institute for Public Health at Washington University in St. Louis. He first heard about Food Outreach from a student in 2016 and found that he enjoyed working with the organization.  After meeting with Executive Director, Julie Lock, Ben decided to join the board.

Ben was initially drawn to Food Outreach because it aligned with both his personal and professional interests. “I’m very much into food. I don’t use this term often, but I think I would identify as a foodie. I like to garden and grow my own food, and so I’m just very interested in that movement. I also have a significant background in program evaluation with nonprofits over the years, and in helping nonprofits think about their services and how to measure their impact to support improvements and secure funding. My healthcare background allows me to assist Food Outreach in leveraging new funding streams.”

Ben is actively involved in three projects in his position as a co-director of Public Health Data and Training Center in the Institute for Public Health. One project focuses on sexual health, particularly regarding STIs. The aim of the project is to build a data platform to understand testing and treatment for STIs in the region. St. Louis has some of the highest rates in the country for chlamydia and gonorrhea.

The second project revolves around violent injury, specifically gun violence in St. Louis. The four level-one trauma hospitals—Barnes, Children’s Glennon, and SLU Hospital—all participate in this program. Victims of violent injuries, such as gunshots, stabbings, or assault, are treated for their injuries. Subsequently, a case manager approaches them to join an intensive case management program. “I’m in charge of the data side of things and we want to understand if the program’s working and the goal is to reduce repeat injuries. We change the past but there is pretty good evidence to show that many people get injured again. And sometimes an injury is more severe in the future. Unfortunately, there are a lot of children involved.”

The third project involves collaboration with a local health department to conduct a public health data assessment. Many health departments lack the resources to catalog all their data assets due to underfunding and high turnover. Ben and his collaborators are working on a report, including interviews and a community survey, aiming to understand their challenges. In the future, the goal would be to replicate this project with other health departments in the region.

As a board member, Ben has found that Food Outreach is open to new ideas about how the organization can better serve its community. “Another reason I was drawn to Food Outreach is openness to innovation and self-reflection. Food Outreach is open to thinking about today and to looking at 10 years down the road. I would love to see Food Outreach grow its footprint and serve more people, potentially having a larger facility. My interest in data and research drives my desire to attract new funders and demonstrate the organization’s impact more definitively.” With his expertise in data, Ben is able to provide strategic advice to Julie and the Food Outreach team with possible partners related to data sharing and outcomes.”

In his spare time, Ben enjoys the outdoors and gardening. He would also like to help Food Outreach grow its own produce someday. “I could easily see a second career for me being somewhere at a garden or in nature. I love to just be outside.”





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