At Harvesters—The Community Food Network, in Kansas City, Missouri, we are committed to maximizing partnerships to reduce food insecurity and promote client stability. Our work is no longer just about emergency food assistance, but now includes efforts to improve the longer-term health and wellness of many in our community. Our new “hunger to health” initiative focuses on partnership, health and robust collaboration. A key piece of the project is developing food and nutrition interventions for clinical settings.
For example, we serve Kids Cafe meals and host fresh produce distributions at pediatricians’ offices. We provide produce for veterans at a VA clinic and host mobile produce distributions for patients who visit county health departments. Harvesters also provides diabetes-friendly foods through a prescriptive pantry at a safety-net clinic working to help its patients improve the management of this chronic disease.
Health insurance companies are coming to the table, taking an active role in the hunger solution. Humana has become a key partner as our hunger to health goals align with the “Bold Goal” work in Kansas City. The “Bold Goal” is a population health strategy to improve the health of its communities 20% by 2020 and beyond by addressing social determinants of health, such as food insecurity, in close collaboration with physicians and community partners. The KC Bold Goal is doing this by hosting healthy food drives, training clinical staff on food insecurity, conducting SNAP outreach, developing market outreach pantries at local community centers and hosting monthly produce distributions at clinics.
Harvesters’ newest partnership with Humana involves distributing healthy food through Health Resources by Humana and clinics located inside Walgreens stores in the Kansas City region. The clinic staff already screen for food insecurity and can refer people to a food pantry or help with a SNAP application. Through this process, the dieticians and clinic staff quickly identified a need for immediate nutrition assistance. Together, we developed a program for Harvesters to provide shelf-stable healthy food kits for distribution through clinics within Walgreens, including Health Resources by Humana.
The kits contain items that are whole grain, lean protein, low sodium and no sugar added. This ensures emergency food needs are addressed, while also promoting good nutrition and helping patients manage chronic illnesses like diabetes or hypertension. This is an innovative solution to address food insecurity and likely filling a gap in communities that may not have a traditional food pantry nearby.
It is these holistic, place-based strategic partnerships, like our work with Humana and other healthcare partners that are helping Harvesters fulfill our mission of not only feeding hungry people today but working to end hunger tomorrow. Complex patient-needs demand a new response. A response that brings partners together at the intersection of hunger and health.
About Harvesters: Harvesters—The Community Food Network is the regional food bank in Kansas City, serving a 26-county area of northwestern Missouri and northeastern Kansas. Harvesters provides food and household products to more than 760 not-for-profit agencies, including emergency food pantries, community kitchens, shelters, and mobile food pantry distributions. Other programs include Kids Cafe, BackSnack, school pantry, USDA commodity distributions and SNAP outreach. We also offer education programs to increase community awareness of hunger and teach about good nutrition.
Jessica Kejr is the Director of Programs and Client Collaboration Initiatives at Harvesters—The Community Food Network. Jessica is responsible for oversight, supervision and strategic planning for BackSnack, School Pantry, Kids’ Cafe, USDA programs, and SNAP Outreach. She is actively engaging partners in the healthcare field to develop innovative approaches to promote client stability and healthy communities as Harvesters works at the intersection of hunger and health. Jessica holds a Masters of Social Work from the University of Kansas. She has been with Harvesters since 2010.