What do a Food Bank and 20 healthcare executives in Central Florida have in common? Before December 2015, we weren’t sure there was much. Since then, though, the answer has become very clear: we all want to stem the rising tide of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and other diet-related chronic diseases that are disproportionately affecting our low-income neighbors.
The healthcare folks knew that the social determinant of food insecurity was a very real barrier to their ability to help these same patients get well and stay well. The Food Bank knew that these were the same community members who relied on our feeding partners to supplement their food budgets.
Early that December, Second Harvest Food Bank invited all the local nonprofit hospitals, Federally Qualified Health Center clinics, Free and Charitable Clinics, Public Health Clinics, the VA Medical Center, health foundations and districts, and medical schools to meet together to talk about how Second Harvest could come alongside them “to measurably affect the health of vulnerable populations.” If we could leverage our existing large partner agency network to develop a subset of “Healthy” pantries, we could increase access to the fresh produce, lean meats, low-sodium/low-sugar foods, and nutrition education needed for low-income patients to improve how they effectively manage their illnesses on their own, reducing ER admissions and missed days at work.
A year later, the Health & Hunger Initiative (HHI) has yielded plans for a new view of the community shared both by the healthcare sector and Second Harvest partners. With strong engagement from our healthcare partners, we are fielding several different models of that increase access to the nutritious foods that make up a healthy diet.
We are building the capacity of qualified pantries with training and new coolers and freezers, we are building “healthy” boxes of low sodium/low sugar/whole grain nonperishables that will be supplemented by fresh and frozen foods at delivery, we have seen one of our pantries co-locate at a public health facility and we’re beginning a regularly scheduled pop-up pantry with the VA Medical Center.
There’s a lot more to learn as we collectively grow this concept in Central Florida. HHI workgroups are developing a set of shared goals and objectives for the projects; seeking new investment for this kind of work, and engaging their own networks in creative pathways to source the kinds of foods needed to promote community health using food as medicine.
You can find a wealth of information about the connection between health and hunger on the new Feeding America website, Hunger and Health.
Karen Broussard, MSW, LCSW
VP, Agency Relations & Programs