Extensive healthy menu. Clearly marked nutrition label. Pre-order feature. Fresh food and meat.
Connecticut’s 364,040 people (1 in 10 residents) facing hunger are increasingly likely to find these grocery store-like features in their local pantry.
Across the state, a dark closet in an out-of-the-way location is a more attractive way to address food insecurity, a plight characterized by inadequate regular access to nutritious food. It is replacing the previous stereotypical food pantry that was housed in a space of size. Unnecessary food cans were frequently lined up and opened irregularly according to volunteer availability.
“We try to put the humanity behind the numbers and recognize that all of those numbers are individuals and are going through difficult times,” says the resource Foodshare Institute for Hunger Research & Solutions. Katie Martin, Executive Director, said. For food banks and community partners.
For many Connecticut residents, facing a pandemic without access to stable employment and free or reduced school meals meant crossing the threshold of food insecurity. Compared to 2018, food insecurity levels rose in all Connecticut counties in 2020, from 12.8% of the population in Toland to 16.2% in New Haven, according to a report by the Connecticut Legislative Research Bureau. It rose to 17% in New London. But even in the darkest times of the pandemic, new and more effective ways of responding to food insecurity were taking hold across the state.
“During COVID, working-class residents needed a check or two to be food insecure,” said Julieth Callejas, Interim Executive Director of End Hunger Connecticut! (EHC!), a statewide organization. Callejas says she and her professional colleagues realized that food pantries weren’t being used efficiently enough. So EHC! We worked harder, smarter and stepped up to meet the growing demand in a variety of ways.
During the spring of 2021, we will partner with local food pantries to launch the EHC! Full Shelf initiative to secure price contracts for an estimated 30% of food needs not covered by existing food banks or donation processes established a purchasing group. “This is a food pantry that helps pantries by building networks and buying in bulk at discounted prices,” he said Callejas. “There are about 800 pantries throughout Connecticut. We’ve connected to over 200 of his.”
In June, with funding from the American Rescue Plan, EHC! formed a new partnership with the Connecticut Department of Agriculture to expand its CT Fresh Match program. This allows the Connecticut Farmer’s Market Outlet to double up on customer purchases made through its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. As of June, 28 Connecticut farmers’ markets, stands and mobile markets are participating in his CT Fresh Match, many within reach of residents who need it most. For example, in Bridgeport, his seven farmers markets, part of the Community Farmers Market Collaborative, are located in areas considered “nutritionally unstable.”
Meeting where a resident is is becoming a concept that spreads beyond the region.
meet where people are
In May, Hartford Hospital cut the ribbon for its Food as Medicine Center. Intended to look like a grocery store, the center gives patients free access to healthy foods prescribed by their healthcare providers.
Dr. Jessica Hsieh Mullins, director of gynecology at Hartford Hospital, said in November 2019 the hospital began screening prenatal patients for food insecurity. About 25% were initially determined to be food insecure.
“The percentage increased as the pandemic progressed,” Mullins said. “Now he’s 50%.”
According to Mullins, food insecurity is correlated with inappropriate weight gain during pregnancy, risk factors for gestational diabetes, and other complications that can adversely affect maternal health.
TEEG uses a customer-centric approach in its food pantry called SWAP (Supporting Wellness at Pantries) to address food insecurity. They sort the foods on the shelves according to their nutritional value to help customers make healthy choices.The healthiest options are on the top shelf.
As part of a pilot program involving 20 patients, participants screened for food insecurity had weekly access to the hospital’s food pantry and could receive one-on-one counseling with an on-site nutritionist. I can do it. The department found that he had a 50% reduction in inappropriate weight gain in participants who received nutritional counseling.
“It’s really encouraging,” Mullins said, adding that he hopes to eventually make the service available to all eligible patients.
This customer-centric approach to addressing food insecurity is gaining considerable momentum across the state. Connecticut Foodshare surveyed residents of the state last year, Martin said. “Many people say they don’t want to rely on other people’s help. They’ll feel embarrassed to ask,” she said.Foodshare workers use this information to make the process more dignified. and share these strategies with a network that includes multiple partner sites throughout Greater Hartford.
Facilitating client choice is central to this strategy. More than Food Consulting, LLC, a new consulting organization launched in August, says more food pantries offer options on shelves that resemble grocery store shelves rather than bagged foods. increase.
How you organize your shelves is important. Using a research-based tactic called SWAP (Supporting Wellness at Pantry), foods are nutritionally ranked based on saturated fat, sodium and sugar and easily marked with red, yellow and green labels. Martin said grading food for health value is just part of the process. “We also put a lot of effort into asking people what their cultural food preferences are,” she said.
All of these efforts have made the process more “transformative rather than transactional,” says Martin. She points out that her TEEG (Thompson Ecumenical Empowerment Group, Inc.), a non-profit social service agency in North Her Grosvenordale, has adopted this model.
This nonprofit provides services to families in need, including diaper banks and fuel and energy assistance. TEEG Executive Her Director Anne Miller says staff are looking for opportunities to support clients in as many ways as possible. “When her community market is open, her case manager greets people and signs them in,” she said. They said, ‘I know you have three children with her. Are you interested in our youth programs?”
The three community markets operated by TEEG that Miller refers to were formerly known as food pantries. She said the new version, which applies the swap method of classifying foods, consistently offers frozen meats, fresh produce, milk and other dairy products. TEEG also makes home deliveries to clients who cannot reach the market.
Miller sees food programs as a way of alleviating food insecurity and establishing trusting relationships with community members who may be able to help in other ways. “We are the conduit, the pipeline,” Miller said. “We used to be neighbors. We don’t know neighbors anymore.”
This article was first published by the Connecticut Health Research team on August 15, 2022.