It all started with a phone call. Jim McGrody, Director of Food and Nutrition for UNC Rex, was in his local Food Lion and saw a Food Lion Feeds sign. That’s when an idea popped into his head: Knowing how critical access to nutritious food is when recovering from an illness or to an individual’s general health and wellness, why can’t the hospital partner with Food Lion to help patients access nutritious food to set them up for a healthy future?
After close to a year of hard work and collaboration, the hospital’s food pantry was born the UNC REX Healthcare Food Pantry Nourished by Food Lion Feeds, and supported by the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, opened its doors on Wednesday, Dec. 12th. The facility is one the first pantries to be operated by a community hospital in North Carolina and is among only a handful of its kind across the nation. The pantry was bursting with fresh produce and heart-healthy food choices, as hospital officials, Food Lion leaders and local dignitaries all joined in the celebration of the location’s grand opening.
“Food Insecurity is one of the social determinants of health,” stated Ervin Bovio, UNC REX Healthcare Chief Operating Officer. “Those that are food insecure are usually financially insecure and they don’t usually have ready access to healthcare. We want to make sure that when they are discharged, that not only do they have a prescription for medications, but they have a prescription for healthy food.”
The intake process for the pantry is simple. Patients are screened by nursing staff and those that indicate that they have recently struggled with food access are referred to a UNC REX case manager that who will write a food prescription and gives them access to the food pantry. The pantry is setup as a “patient choice” model which allows individuals to decide the healthy food they want to help them heal. During their visit to the pantry individuals can choose enough food for a family of four for three days. The goal is that individuals will be able to make good food choices and sustain those choices.
“We believe no one should have to choose between dinner and rent, or medicine and groceries,” said Food Lion President Meg Ham. “The food pantry at UNC REX Hospital is another opportunity for us to help eliminate some of those difficult choices for people in the towns and cities we serve.”
The pantry is looking to serve up to 2,000 individuals in the first year. They will also distribute nutritional information and lists of additional community resources. The hope is to evolve and strengthen food pantry programming to connect patients to the hospital’s teaching kitchen to demonstrate healthy recipes using the food provided in the pantry. Tara Freeman, Manager of the Food Pantry, has been beyond excited about this collaboration. “I am just grateful for the fact that Food Lion is partnering with us,” she exclaimed after the ribbon cutting. “We really want to close that critical gap from when patients leave in case they get home and don’t have food or can’t get food. It is so great that Food Lion Feeds has the insight to see this need that we have in this community. Food Lion is just such a great organization and we are really grateful to be able to partner with them.”