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These Health Clinics Are Prescribing Groceries For Their Patients

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It’s been a year since the Dare to Care food bank started a program with three Norton health clinics to provide food for patients who struggle to buy groceries. Over the past year one of those clinics — Norton Children’s Associates — has provided food to more than one thousand people.

When the food pantry partnership with Dare to Care began, nurse practitioner Nancy Spillman already knew many of her patients struggled to buy groceries. What she didn’t anticipate was how hesitant some of those patients would be to accept help.

Spillman works at Norton Children’s Associates downtown. She remembers one family in particular.

“And I knew from the beginning that they had food insecurity, but mom would always say no, and dad would always say yes. And she would get upset about it,” Spillman said.

But finally, after multiple tries, Spillman broke through. The family had recently had a fourth child, had one car that broke down and their second car’s engine had just stopped working.

“And mom stepped out of the room, she was suffering from postpartum depression. I said [to the dad], ‘Do you need food?’ And dad said, ‘Absolutely, we are struggling,’" Spillman remembered.

"So when mom came back in, I said, ‘Listen, let me help you out with this today. Logistically, you don’t have time to go to the grocery store. Let me help just this one time.’ That opened the door.”

Clinics participating in the program ask patients two simple questions. If they screen positive for food insecurity, they can go home with a bag of groceries. The food Dare to Care provides for the three clinic food pantries is healthy, and families receive recipes on how to prepare the food, too.

And the program goes beyond just nutrition. Spillman said most of the children in families that struggle to buy food are at an increased risk for developmental delays. This — as well as hunger — leads to many of these kids struggling in school, which puts them at a disadvantage.

There’s also a strong link between access to food and poor health. Annette Ball with Dare to Care said the organization is planning to create a way to track people who have received food from the clinics, with the goal of measuring future health outcomes.

But Ball said one of the most surprising parts of the project so far has been the realization that many working people still struggle to buy groceries.

“Our providers have been surprised when they thought, 'oh, I know both parents are working, but I need to ask anyway.' And it comes back, yes, they are food insecure,” Ball said. “And it reiterates for us, we never know. We don’t want to take it for granted that people have the healthy food they need.”

Dare to Care is currently in talks with the University of Louisville Pediatrics and Family Health Centers to expand the food pantry program to those locations.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.

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