Food access is a critical contributor to health. Unfortunately, many people suffer long-term health consequences because they were born into communities that lack access to affordable, nutritious food. Diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease are directly tied to food insecurity, leading to significant health disparities among socially and economically disadvantaged communities.
More Than Ending Hunger
We are working together like never before to not just end hunger, but to promote health for the 800,000 neighbors we serve annually. Together, we are embarking on a health-focused, neighbor-centered transformation of Virginia’s charitable food system, to better connect neighbors facing hunger with the food and resources they need to lead healthy, thriving lives.
Our Food is Medicine Initiatives
Health is about more than access to healthcare. In fact, 80% of a person’s health is determined outside of the doctor’s office. As a result, health is not something any one group can accomplish alone but is something that we can powerfully affect together. Virginia’s food banks are committed to supporting the health of neighbors facing hunger, and are already doing so in the following ways:
Our Healthy Pantry Initiative
Virginia’s food banks and their pantry partners are committed to supporting the health of neighbors facing hunger. The Healthy Pantry Initiative is a movement guiding all interested pantries to implement more health-focused and neighbor-centered practices. Any pantry can choose to opt-in to the movement to receive tools, training, and become eligible to receive targeted grant funding for implementing new practices.
Health Equity Community Assessment
USDA statistics show that only 3 out of 5 people facing hunger use food pantries to help meet their food needs. There are significant physical and psychosocial barriers that may prevent people facing hunger from accessing food. Virginia’s food banks are learning what these barriers are directly from neighbors facing hunger, as well as how food banks and their partners can work together to address these barriers. That way, neighbors won’t have to make one of the many impossible choices among those experiencing hunger, like choosing between paying for food or medicine.
Receiving Healthcare Referrals for Food and Nutrition Benefits
Given that most of a person’s health is determined outside of the doctor’s office, health partners are now required to assess patients’ social needs, including food, housing, and transportation. Once a patient “screens positive” or is found to need more support in these areas, health partners refer them to community partners, like food banks, to help address these needs. Virginia’s food banks recognize that food is consistently emerging as a top need for Virginians, which is why we’ve chosen to adopt the Unite Us platform and to streamline communications with the health sector. Using Unite Us, food banks can connect more neighbors facing hunger with food and nutrition benefits assistance.
Sourcing and Distributing Nutritious, Culturally Relevant Food
Food banks are implementing nutrition guidelines and are utilizing Nourish, an automated nutrition calculator, to help them source and distribute healthier, more culturally relevant foods that neighbors want and need.
Partners in Health
This new approach to our work has potential for great impact, but requires us to shift investments from downstream (treating illness) to upstream (preventing illness). We are grateful to the following donors who have invested their dollars in being part of the solution.