Striving to Reduce Food Insecurity in Big Bend Region

Striving to Reduce Food Insecurity in Big Bend Region

Food Insecurity is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. The Big Bend Region, an 11-county area, has the highest food insecurity rates in the state of Florida. As of 2017, the four highest food insecure counties, among all other counties in Florida, are located in the Big Bend area: Gadsden (22.2%), Madison (22.2%), Hamilton (20.2%) and Leon (19.7%). Almost 100,000 families, children and seniors experience hunger on a regular basis.*

In an effort to reduce food insecurity and close the hunger gap, the Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare (TMH) Food and Nutrition Department by Sodexo has implemented a food insecurity screening tool. The goal of this screening tool is to identify and connect patients with short- and long-term resources for food assistance.

“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, Chief Clinical Officer/VP. “Tallahassee Memorial is at the forefront of addressing food insecurity and how it impacts the health of our community, and we hope to connect our community with the resources they need.”  

The food insecurity initiative began in June 2019 with the Summer Food Service program. Sponsored by the Florida Hospital Association (FHA), TMH became a Summer BreakSpot for children 18 and under where they were invited to receive a free meal provided by Café 1300 at the hospital. The purpose of this reimbursable meal service program is to alleviate food insecurity and hunger needs ensuring children continue to receive healthy meals when not in school during the summer months. TMH successfully served nearly 1,000 free meals to children and teens in the community through this program.

Following the success of the summer program, TMH Registered Dietitians recognized the need to expand the initiative to include adult patients identified as food insecure receiving care at the hospital. TMH, in partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank, launched the Emergency Food Kit program.

TMH clinicians use the Hunger Vital Sign™ two-question screening tool, suitable for clinical or community outreach, that 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:

  • “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.”

This program is designed to provide food insecure patients with non-perishable nutritious food they can easily make at home. In addition, a recipe book was created by TMH clinical dietitians using the foods that are in the kit as well as a resource guide for short- and long-term food assistance. An immediate-need emergency food kit was also created for patients facing homelessness. This kit provides nutritious items that do not need to be prepared in a kitchen or require the use of kitchen utensils, such as a can opener. Food options include pop-top canned fruit, granola bars and proteins, such as canned tuna and chicken. The nutrition goal of the emergency food kit is to provide a variety of foods from the different food groups that encompass a well-balanced diet.

 “We want to reduce barriers related to food insecurity to help our patients and community members live an overall better quality of life and this is one way we know we can help them achieve it,” said Afaf Qasem, Director of Quality of Life Services at TMH.

The Emergency Food Kit program will further assist TMH in their commitment to improve patient care and provide support for access to healthy food for those who need it.  Donations can be made through Tallahassee Memorial’s website at www.tmh.org/giving and can be specified for the Feeding America Grant.

For more information, contact: Afaf Qasem at afaf.qasem@tmh.org or DeAnne Bruner at deanne.bruner@tmh.org.

*Source: Hunger Facts (n.d.). Retrieved from https://fightinghunger.org/hunger-facts/

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