Wellness on Wheels is one of many programs Northwell has launched to address food insecurity with the goal of health equity across all zip codes. Here are three ways health systems can help address food insecurity in your local community.
Listen to community needs: Food insecurity crosses many demographics. To understand the local community and its specific needs, health systems must engage with community leaders to properly tailor programs and services. Northwell conducts focus groups in all six counties it serves through a community needs assessment. Additional listening tours and outreach efforts are essential to understanding the root causes of food insecurity in a community.
Create a partnership ecosystem: Programs like Wellness on Wheels would not be as effective without the help of community partners. It’s important to support the organizations to which you refer patients. Recognizing that many children lack access to food at home, Northwell supports Island Harvest Food Bank’s Kids Weekend Backpack Feeding Program, which sends students home with backpacks filled with shelf-stable food (canned tuna, pasta, pasta sauce, beans, rice). Intended to fill the gap in access to healthy school meals from Friday to Monday, the program has distributed approximately 15,000 meals and snacks.
Another benefit of health systems working with community groups: By referring patients to foodbanks or local pantries, we’re helping identify people in need.
Apply for grants: A small amount can have a big impact. Thanks to several foundation grants Northwell has purchased a second Wellness on Wheels van. In addition to funding maintenance of the vehicle, it will enable us to offer more programs and services to schools, churches and local pantries.
Anastasia Schepers, MS, RDN, CDN, CLC, nutritionist and clinical program manager, Cohen Children’s Medical Center
Debbie Salas-Lopez, MD, MPH senior vice president, Population and Community Health, Northwell Health
Jodi DeMasco, Community Outreach Specialist, Cohen Children’s Medical Center
Kayla Altoonian, MPH, CHES, Community Outreach Program Manager, Cohen Children’s Medical Center
Edward C. Fraser, MHA, vice president of Community Relations and chair of Northwell’s EXPRESSIONS BERG