Fresh Produce Provides a Healthy Dose of Hope to Our Community

MedStar Health – It’s How We Treat People.

Single parenting, tight budgets, and food insecurities.

Becky Illingworth knows from experience the challenges that some of her patients face. As a single mom, she worked full-time, but some months money was tight. “I went to social services for extra help, they turned me away because I made thirty-something dollars over their limit. Outside of social services, I wasn’t really aware of what resources were available to help me when I was going through my own hardships and struggles.”

Becky now works to help people in similar situations as a community health advocate at MedStar Health. She could relate when an eleventh grade high school mother showed up at her door. The young mother and her newborn baby relied on her parents for their basic needs, including food and shelter. And when her dad had to get emergency surgery, food was tight for the entire family. The young mom was unsure of when and where she may get her next meal—until she was connected with Becky. They were screened at MedStar Harbor Hospital and qualified for the Harvest Rx program, which was created through a partnership with Hungry Harvest, whose mission is to eliminate unnecessary food waste and provide better access to healthy food to those in need. The program aims to deliver up to eight weeks of fresh fruit and produce to patients with food insecurities.

"I touched base with the family a week or so later. They were so thrilled to have that extra food—and healthy food! In fact, everyone I follow up with has nothing but great things to say."

Becky regularly checks-in with the patients she’s connected to Harvest Rx. “I touched base with the family a week or so later. They were so thrilled to have that extra food—and healthy food! In fact, everyone I follow up with has nothing but great things to say.” Becky explains that these patients are used to eating their fruits and veggies from a can, so having fresh produce often feels like a gift.

Through a community health needs assessment, MedStar Health found that food access was one of the top community needs.

Ryan Moran, director of community health at three MedStar Health Baltimore hospitals, shares why having access to healthy food is just as important to the health of our community as having access to convenient, high-quality health care. “For instance, if the patient is a diabetic and goes home without the ability to eat well, they’re going to end up back in the hospital. The goal is not just signing people up for the eight-week program, it’s for our community health advocates to also work on long-term, sustainable solutions.”

At MedStar Health, we realize the importance of treating the whole person. And sometimes that means going beyond medicine to address our patients’ basic needs. Our partnership with Hungry Harvest brings healthy food, and hope, to patients and their families during challenging times in their lives.

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