At Roadrunner Food Bank we challenged ourselves to address the intersection of hunger and health in an innovative way. We desired to create a program model that identifies food insecure patients at healthcare clinics, provides them with resources to access fresh, nutritious food in their neighborhood and makes a measurable difference in patient health outcomes. With funding from Feeding America and a six-month window to implement the program, we set to work.
First and foremost, we identified partners. To capitalize on the expertise in our community, we engaged an existing agency, Rio Grande Food Project, one of the largest food pantries in New Mexico. Rio Grande Food Project is located in a low median income area in the city; it is also just two blocks away from a Family Health Clinic affiliated with our learning hospital, University of New Mexico.
It took many meetings with multiple staff from all three partners to design and implement the program. Clinic staff screen patients for food insecurity and use a clinical measure, a hemoglobin A1c level (the measure for diabetes control), to determine eligibility. Eligible patients receive a referral to participate in a special distribution day at the food pantry. During this distribution, individuals shop “choice” style, with access to fresh fruits and vegetables as well as other products selected using Feeding America’s Foods to Encourage recommendations, to help them access the healthy food they need to manage their diabetes.
During the pilot phase, the clinic identified 108 patients eligible for the program. Of those eligible, 74% accepted the referral and visited the food pantry at least once. Patients that utilized the pantry took an average of 27 pounds of food a week, with an average of 20 pounds, or 74%, being fresh produce.
These results exceeded our expectations thanks to the engagement of the program partners. Our partners offered an incredible amount of trust. They put their trust in us as we created and designed a new program together and offered trust at both the clinic and the food pantry that all parties would be accountable for their role. We communicated heavily throughout the pilot. We engaged in monthly meetings with key contacts from each partner organization and used the time to share successes and lessons learned. We also checked in weekly via email once we reached the implementation phase. Additionally, we set clear expectations when we began to design the project. We were embarking on a brand new distribution model and we were bound to make mistakes. This understanding created a truly collaborative process where mistakes were viewed as learning opportunities.
Engaging partners in a thoughtful process can create much more success than originally anticipated. We encourage food banks to serve a unique role as a facilitator to bring together partners from multiple sectors to address the needs of our community.
Tabatha Bennett, a born and raised New Mexican, is passionate about improving the health and wellness of her community. As the Senior Community Initiatives Manager at Roadrunner Food Bank, her focus is on health and outcomes services. She works to build partnerships with various individuals in the healthcare and nonprofit industries, and create innovative programs to address the intersection of hunger and health.