While many of us take having good, fresh food for granted, it is a luxury for one in four children in the US, and about 12% of residents in Cook County face food insecurity each year. That means that these County residents do not have enough money each month to pay for adequate food. Many Cook County Health patients live at or below the federal poverty line. Every month they face hard choices – pay rent or utilities or buy food. Learn more about food insecurity and poverty in our County here Map of Poverty & Food Insecurity (Greater Chicago Food Depository).
It is estimated that at a minimum it takes $299 to adequately feed an individual for one month Food Prices in Chicago, IL (numbeo.com). Many communities of color in Cook County report individual incomes under $24,000 with many residents living on substantially less. With rents averaging more than $1,000 for a single person – $12,000 per year, phone and utilities over $100 per month, and transportation as much as $150 per month, many people simply cannot afford $299 or more to purchase high quality, nutritious food, and there is precious little money left for health insurance, insurance co-pays, needed medicines and a host of other daily necessities.
The health consequences of not having enough food, especially not having high quality, fresh food, are striking Poor Nutrition (CDC). Lack of good nutrition in children frequently delays their development physically and intellectually and often leads to obesity as they grow up and diseases like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. Similarly, lack of good nutrition in adults often results in increased incidence and severity of these chronic diseases and many others.
March is National Nutrition Month, a time when we recognize the significant role that good nutrition plays in our health and well-being and a time that we learn the many ways that we as individuals and institutions can provide critical support to those who do not have the option of eating nutritious food every day.
For the past five years, Cook County Health has created partnerships to help address food insecurity among its patients. Some of the innovative ways they are bridging the nutrition gap for patients are highlighted below.
Fresh Truck Program
Cook County Health partners with the Greater Chicago Food Depository to bring fresh fruits and vegetables every month to eligible patients at 11 health centers across the County. As of the end of February, the Fresh Truck program has helped nearly 125,000 individuals access the fresh produce that is so essential to a healthy diet.
When school is not in session, many children aged 18 and under lose the meals provided daily at their schools. That poses a significant threat to their health and puts additional strain on family budgets that were already insufficient to provide meals every day. A second partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository delivers meals to the Cottage Grove, Robbins and Englewood health centers for eligible families to pick up.
Nutritious Prepared Meals
A year ago, the health system initiated a pilot project with the Greater Chicago Food Depository to provide nutritious prepared meals to a target group of patients in need. The meals are delivered weekly to patients’ home along with a supply of fresh fruits and vegetables. Cook County Health community health workers, part of the Integrated Care department, provide regular health coaching to help patients use the food to best advantage to improve their health. Meals are prepared by students in the Food Depository’s Chicago Community Kitchen program, which is a 14-week job training program for unemployed or underemployed adults, preparing them for careers in the culinary and hospitality industries.
A second key community partner is Top Box Foods, a not for profit focused on assuring all people can access affordable, nutritious food. The organization offers an array of pre-packaged boxes that include fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry and staples. The food is priced significantly lower than the average grocery store, and patients can pay with debit or credit cards or with the Link card from the Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP).
Starting in December, Top Box began of offer patients and community members the opportunity to pick up their orders once a month at Provident Hospital to make accessing nutritious food easier. These partnerships and initiatives are all focused on increasing access to nutritious, health appropriate foods for those who have the fewest resources and often the greatest health need for nutritious food. Please consider supporting the nutrition initiatives at Cook County Health and bridge the gap in food resources for our most vulnerable populations.