For the past year, the coronavirus pandemic has changed thousands of lives throughout the nation, but it really hit home here in the First State. A newly launched program in New Castle County has enacted change to help people fight food insecurity, get the help they need for their medical conditions and get out from under financial burdens.
Food Farmacy launched in February as a radically convenient health equity program that provides patients with clinical care, social care and food that will help them thrive.
“Each patient will have access to a pharmacist, a nurse practitioner, registered dietician, behavioral health consultant, and a community health worker,” says Erin Booker, ChristianaCare’s vice president of community health and engagement. “This program works with people who have diabetes, hypertension or heart failure, and are really struggling to maintain their health. It is focused on our Medicaid population to really make sure that people who have other special needs are being targeted. We are making sure we’re giving them everything they need for whole-person care.”
This six-month program allows each member to get weekly food deliveries—hand-delivered in the delivery van that Lutheran Community Services purchased through local funding—that consist of up to 10 meals a week for the whole family. Items such as fruit, vegetables, lean meats, chicken, turkey, fish, canned goods, beans, soup, and more can be ordered. Periodically, a monthly staples kit will be delivered with the meal boxes supplying spices, olive oil, red wine vinegar and so on, as supplied by sources like donations and grocery stores.
“We have multiple sources, so when we put out the word about Food Farmacy and what items we were looking for we got a lot of donations,” Rob Gurnee, executive director for Lutheran Community Services, says. “There are some businesses that allow us to buy from them wholesale. We are also in partnership with the Food Bank of Delaware, where we order a lot of our food from. We also have some local gardens from our church partners where we get some of our fresh food from.”
Each patient is given two order forms a month, one for the first and third weeks of the month and the other for second and fourth weeks. Patients can pick food that accommodates their whole household. One patient, Liz Clark from Claymont, has been in the program for over a month and has seen amazing results from her food orders.
“My primary care provider recommended me for a health group, and one of my focus care doctors made the ties to Food Farmacy—I was trying to adjust to new dietary restrictions, to monitoring things and I’m trying to lose weight,” says Clark. “So, I was trying to figure out how to balance that and still meet cravings, needs and things. They thought that could possibly help me and it has really had. I’m trying new recipes; I’m trying cooking with ingredients I don’t usually use and it’s going a long way.”
During 2020, Clark spent the year very sick, to the point where she lost 80 pounds to starvation and developed a scary relationship with food. She is currently in the process of determining whether she is pre-diabetic with type one or type two diabetes and, since matching with Food Farmacy, has been able to find a healthy balance.
“We’re trying to determine if I’m pre-diabetic type two or one. It’s been a bit of a challenge and, because of that, I’ve been facing a lot of dietary changes” she says. “I’ve been trying to cut out sugars out of my diet which forces me to try and learn new things. One of the things I’ve missed the most is fruit and fruit-flavored things like apple sauces, juices, etc. And I’ve gotten to the point where I can eat fresh fruit again. But I still can’t have fruit products that have a lot of sugar added to it.”
Since she can incorporate fruits in her diet again, she began using apples to create a healthy, no-sugar added applesauce recipe. It uses a substitute sugar-free maple syrup, extracts and spices to make a pie filling taste that is really sweet but only using healthy alternatives.
During the six-month program, patients not only meet with medical personnel and dietitians, but they also learn how to thrive on their own once the program ends. While Food Farmacy is still in its pilot phase, it has big plans for the future, including starting an emergency financial assistance plan for those in need.