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A $3.5 million gift to Teachers College from philanthropist Laurie Tisch will fund a new center for food and nutrition policy.

Philanthropist Laurie Tisch has donated $3.5 million to Teachers College to establish a food policy research center, which will be launched at an event on Thursday.

The gift, part of a $15 million initiative by the Tisch Illumination Fund to combat hunger, will provide funding for research that aims to increase access to healthier foods in local communities.

Pamela Koch, the director of the new Center for Food, Education, and Policy and a professor of nutrition education at TC, said that the donation will help enhance current food policy research at Teachers College.

The donation "is supporting new faculty down the line and doctoral students to be able to do research in the area that we want to focus on," Koch said. "There's a lot of work going on trying to increase access to food for people."

"When people have access to food and are getting really good-quality, motivational messages, that will really make them believe that healthy eating is worth it," Koch added.

While some of the initial funding will help hire new faculty members for the center, Koch said that it will also finance research to identify the best methods for teaching food skills like cooking and growing a garden.

The center will offer courses focused on nutrition education, including a course that examines community initiatives to eat healthier and a course on how students can teach "good, effective, nutrition education that will change the way people eat," Koch said.

Tisch, whose foundation created the Green Cart Initiative in 2008 to increase the availability of fresh produce in low-income neighborhoods, said in a statement that she hopes the research she funds will help change government policies on hunger and other food-related issues.

Thursday's launch event will feature Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, City Council member and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, and USDA food official Kevin Concannon. 

"Public officials like Christine Quinn and Cory Booker want to know where public dollars can make a difference, and they are making their decisions based on what information is out there," Tisch said in the statement.

Koch said that she hopes the new center can influence public policy with concrete evidence on how certain programs, including healthy bodegas and farmers markets, influence the community.

"We're really excited and thankful for the gift," Koch said.

samantha.cooney@columbiaspectator.com | @sammcooney

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