Behind the Scenes of One Food Bank’s Journey to Preventing Diabetes

by Martha Y. Orozco Research Coordinator, Alameda County Community Food Bank

Imagine sitting at the table with your family to eat a warm meal after a long workday and running errands. You smell something delicious only to look down and realize you cannot eat what is on your plate – not because you don’t like it or you are on a diet but because you have diabetes. This is amongst one of the many struggles food bank clients face on a daily basis. Located in the heart of the San Francisco Bay area, Alameda County Community Food Bank (ACCFB) serves an ethnically diverse population where risk factors for diabetes are prevalent.  For various health related research projects, I have interviewed and interacted with hundreds of individuals struggling with diabetes in one way or another. Our health related work has indicated we are a vital partner in helping connect our community members with resources they may not know of or be able to easily access.

For Diabetes Awareness Month, we are celebrating by looking to build on our past years work focused on our clients’ health related research studies in connection to diabetes. After a yearlong effort to provide 248 participants with diabetes prevention education and medically tailored food bags, the results demonstrate how beneficial it is for our food bank to build preventative programming. This work began November 2017 with Feeding America and University of Pittsburg with the aim of assessing how food banks can support adults at high risk for prediabetes. Results demonstrated increased consumption of fruits and vegetables, increased physical activity, and improvements in general health and depression scores among participants.

While our goal is to continue to provide our clients with the services they need, publication of our work is a great stepping-stone to emphasizing the importance of food banks engaging with the healthcare sector. Food banks can be valuable partners to healthcare organizations looking to improve the health of vulnerable populations with high risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes. Our community projects like FAITH-DM and our most recent Diabetes Prevention Pilot (DPP) accentuated our need to do more. One DPP client stated, “Extend the project and allow more people to enroll into DPP so more people in the community can benefit.”  Another said, “I hope the food bank continues the preventative work. I don’t know where diabetes came from but we don’t want it!” We repeatedly heard requests to continue to inform and help more people in the community who live with diabetes and are at risk for prediabetes. Diabetes is a difficult illness to manage before taking into consideration other life struggles and challenges most of our clients currently face.

The results from FAITH-DM and DPP showed us that in order to make a large impact in our community and see great outcomes; we need to provide education on preventive measures. Alameda County Community Food Bank will continue its efforts to provide nutritional education and prevent diabetes with our clients. We are working to increase the number of healthy eating educational classes we provide in our network, and continue diabetes prevention programming.

Feeding America is committed to addressing the diet quality and food security of the people they serve. Those efforts include addressing clients’ health issues at food distributions by hosting health screening, offering nutrition education, facilitating health benefits applications and providing healthy food.  Because of their mission and the Diabetes Prevention Pilot project, Feeding America created a toolkit, Addressing Food Insecurity and Diabetes Prevention, which is a great resource available for food banks looking to start preventative work in their communities.