Food is medicine – it’s a mantra that’s gained momentum in cities across the nation in recent years.
The Greater Chicago Food Depository has been at the forefront of Chicago-area efforts to connect health and food systems for people facing hunger. In 2015, the Food Depository began distributing fresh produce to people screened positive for food insecurity at partnering health centers.
We called it the Fresh Truck.
Today, the Fresh Truck carries fresh fruits and vegetables to 19 community health centers in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. The Food Depository currently partners with the three health systems on Fresh Truck distributions: Cook County Health, Access Community Health Network and Chicago Department of Public Health.
Since the Fresh Truck began, it’s served nearly 54,000 households at 406 distributions across those three systems.
The Food Depository also partners with health systems in establishing other forms of food intervention for patients who lack consistent access to nutritious food. Examples of that range from health centers hosting pop-up food pantries to pediatricians providing bags of shelf-stable food for patients to take home.
Screening for food insecurity is a critical first step, said Emily Daniels, the Food Depository’s senior manager of programs.
“Health professionals should screen their patients, know the resources that are available and know how to talk about them,” Daniels said. “We’ve heard from a number of hospitals that one of the big challenges internally is dispelling some of the myths around who is food insecure and what it looks like.”
“They could start screening patients tomorrow and connecting them to existing resources like the emergency food network and the benefits outreach hotline.”
Watch this video from a recent Fresh Truck distribution at Jorge Prieto Family Health Center in Little Village, one of the Cook County Health and Hospitals’ sites, to better understand how fresh fruits and vegetables have become part of the treatment and prevention plan.