A Prescription for Healthy Food

by Gideon Adams Vice President, Community Health & Engagement, Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina

When the connection between hunger and health is ignored, people of all ages suffer. Chronic illness and diet-related diseases often go hand in hand with poor nutrition, and it’s hard to eat healthy when your main focus is simply to eat. These long-term consequences are something we’ve realized more and more in recent years, both through the impact on individuals, and the strain on healthcare and education systems.

With these concerns in mind, the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina created a department called Community Health & Engagement. This department is focused on nutrition, education and outreach, and developing collaborations with like-minded community partners to help support people struggling with hunger and health.

This past December, we were able to launch an innovative new pantry with our partners at UNC REX Healthcare system and retail grocer Food Lion. This pantry, located on the hospital campus, will support patients and their families who struggle to access the healthy foods their bodies need to heal. It’s one of the first food pantries operated by a community hospital in North Carolina, and one of only a handful across the country.

Hospital patients who share with doctors that they have recently struggled with food access, or who are considered food insecure, are prescribed a visit to the food pantry with their hospital discharge paperwork. They receive a three-day supply of healthy food, enough for a family of four, including fresh produce, staple items, and healthy snacks. Patients will also receive nutritional information, healthy recipes from hospital chefs and dietitians, and a comprehensive list of food pantries and other community resources they can access after being discharged.

Shortly after the grand opening, a patient getting food to take home explained that he was having to choose between buying food and medicine. The past month he chose food and ended up in the hospital. Pantries like this, with improved access and education, can help ease those hard choices. While still in pilot phase, the pantry has already served 30 families in just four weeks, and will expand to serve the entire facility by the end of January.

Other initiatives of our Community Health & Engagement team include a teaching kitchen and a demonstration garden at our main facility. Our teaching kitchen holds nutrition and cooking classes utilizing foods often found at the Food Bank. The garden helps support nutrition and food system education, and also helps build relationships between generations over a shared passion for growing food.

Our food bank’s purpose is to address hunger as a community health issue. Through new collaborations and relationships that led to the creation of the new hospital pantry, we help create solutions to end hunger. Access to food, and what we eat, has a profound impact on our mental and physical well-being. As hunger-relief advocates, we are thankful to be able to not only feed people who are hungry, but impact overall community health.

Gideon Adams is Vice President for Community Health & Engagement at the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina. Previous positions include Senior Manager, Programs and Outreach at the Food Bank and Operations Management of another Feeding America network food bank in the state of North Carolina. Prior to this position, he held operational and project roles in the private sector. Gideon is responsible for strategic planning and implementation of partnerships and programs that will increase access to nutrition education and find solutions to end the cycle of food insecurity.