Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, in conjunction with the West Orange Health District, is launching a three-year pilot program to provide healthy food for low-income people struggling with diet-related diseases.
At select partner agencies, the Healthy Pantry network will serve district residents in communities such as Ocoee, Pine Hills, Dr. Phillips, Windermere, Winter Garden and Oakland. Patients, all referred by their healthcare providers, will receive free, three-month vouchers for fresh, nutritious food to supplement their diet and help them manage their diet-related diseases, such as diabetes. In addition, biometric screenings, personal counseling, community education and other support services will also be available.
“The idea is to proactively nudge people toward eating healthy,” said Dave Krepcho, Second Harvest’s president and CEO. “As our nation struggles to keep up with the unrelenting epidemic of diabetes, obesity, hypertension and heart disease, there’s a growing awareness that hunger as a social determinant of disease can be managed outside the walls of the clinic or hospital.”
Phase 1 of the program, which begins this month, includes hiring a coordinator who will help partner agencies understand how hunger impacts health and so they can effectively help their clients make better nutritional choices. Pantries included in the project will have the opportunity to receive new equipment to store and distribute healthier fresh and frozen food. The first six Healthy Pantries should be online by late 2017 or early 2018, with 10 others to follow.
“The district is pleased to support this healthy food initiative,” said Tracy Swanson, executive director for the West Orange Healthcare District. “In many instances, nutritious food is as important as medicine in maintaining, preventing and treating disease.”
The $267,154 Healthy Pantry grant from the West Orange Health District is part of an effort to address diabetes and other health-related issues affecting the community.
“Proper nutrition is essential for health and healing,” said Dr. Debra Andree, vice president and chief medical officer for Community Health Centers, Inc in Winter Garden. “Food security affects many of the patients Community Health Centers cares for. This partnership will allow Central Florida residents to better secure nutritious food in a dignified way and will promote improved health-related outcomes.”
According to a report by Hunger in America, nearly 23 percent of food bank clients in Orange County suffer from diabetes, and nearly 54 percent have high blood pressure. Only 2 in 5 have health insurance, and 26 percent have to make the monthly decision between seeking healthcare and buying food. A study by Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group found that, in 2014, the most at-risk areas of Apopka, Oakland, Ocoee and Winter Garden saw 530 people die from diet-related diseases.