Written by: Matt Polland, Florida State University Masters Student and Dietetic Intern at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare Precepted by: Afaf Qasem, MS, RDN, LDN, Director of Quality of Life Services at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare
Even before the COVID-19 crisis forced us inside of our homes and put millions of Americans out of work, food insecurity was a problem many families faced every day in our country. Food insecurity is defined as a lack of access to enough safe and nutritious food for a healthy and productive life.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of food-insecure Americans has significantly increased. Locally, the Big Bend region has been hit hard with 30% of its population seeking food assistance, a total of 150,000 people who are struggling to find their next meal. The Big Bend is also home to five of the top 10 counties in Florida with the highest rates of food insecurity. Madison (18.5%), Dixie (18.1%), Gadsden (18.0%), Jackson (16.6%), Taylor (16.4%) and Franklin (16.3%) counties rank among the highest in food insecurity within the state.
Food insecurity costs can affect every part of an individual's life, including their financial, mental and physical well-being. Food insecure people are at a higher risk for many health and social declines, including an increased rate of diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and depression. Also, hunger causes children to have lower scores in math and increases the likelihood of repeating a grade while decreasing development in areas like language and motor skills.
Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare's (TMH) Food and Nutrition Department by Sodexo has implemented a food insecurity screening tool to reduce food insecurity and close the hunger gap. This screening tool aims to identify and connect patients with short- and long-term food assistance resources in the community.
TMH clinicians use the Hunger Vital Sign™ two-question screening tool, suitable for clinical or community outreach, identifies patients as being at risk of food insecurity. If patient(s) answer 'true,' 'often' or 'sometimes true' to either or both of the following statements, they are considered food insecure. The questions are as follows:
- "Within the past 12 months, I have been worried whether food would run out before I have money to buy more."
- "Within the past 12 months, the food I bought didn't last and I didn't have money to get more."
"As a healthcare organization, we believe that caring for patients goes beyond the hospital. The only way to make a substantial and lasting difference in the health of our community is by tackling some of the social and economic factors that impact their health," said Ryan Smith, VP & Chief Clinical Officer at TMH. "Tallahassee Memorial is at the forefront of addressing food insecurity and how it impacts the health of our community, and that's why we're working to connect our community with the resources they need."
What can I do if I am or someone I know is experiencing food insecurity?
Many organizations and assistance programs are available to help those who are food insecure in the Big Bend. These non-profit and governmental programs include:
- Second Harvest of the Big Bend accepts food donations and distributes food to over 135 partners throughout the Big Bend area.
- Many governmental assistance programs such as SNAP and WIC are available to provide supplemental food assistance to those who qualify.
- The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) is a governmental assistance program specifically for those 60 years of age or older and is available to seniors in Calhoun, Liberty, Madison and Hamilton counties.
- United Way's 211 program helps residents find and access local food assistance resources and can be easily contacted by calling or texting the number 211.
There are also food pantries and soup kitchens across the Big Bend for those in need.
How can I help those who are food insecure if I am able?
Donate your time! Many soup kitchens, food pantries and local organizations need volunteers to be able to help the community. Reach out to your local assistance organization to see if you can help. You can also donate to help financially support the organizations that support our communities, including the Second Harvest COVID-19 Response and United Way's 211 program.
For more information, contact Afaf Qasem, TMH Director of Quality of Life Services, Lead RD, at Afaf.Qasem@TMH.ORG or DeAnne Bruner, MBA, RD, LDN, TMH Clinical Nutrition Manager III, at Deanne.Bruner@TMH.ORG.
To learn more, visit TMH.ORG.