The Cook County Health (CCH) has launched a new pilot program to connect food-insecure patients- those who lack consistent access to enough food or healthy food- with fresh produce through a partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

“People need reliable access to food in order to live healthy and productive lives,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “Through this collaboration, we can better identify residents in need and connect them with affordable sources of food.”

The pilot is part of an ongoing effort to address issues of food insecurity among CCH patients and expands the health system’s partnership with the Food Depository.

“Nearly one in six of our neighbors in Cook County struggles to access the food they need for a healthy life,” said Kate Maehr, Executive Director and CEO for the Food Depository. “This pilot program is an exciting next step in our partnership with Cook County Health. Together, we can improve the health of our community through greater access to nutritious food.”

For the last few weeks, health care providers at CCH’ Logan Square Health Center have been screening pediatric patients for food insecurity by asking new questions about their access to food during the intake process. Patients and their families who screen positive are given vouchers that can be redeemed for free fresh fruit and vegetables on the Food Depository’s FRESH truck.

The Food Depository’s FRESH truck is a walk-through refrigerated vehicle lined with shelves of fresh produce. Recipients with vouchers select fruits and vegetables to take home at no cost. Individuals from 76 households received fresh cabbage, tomatoes, cauliflower, limes, avocados, pears, and more when the FRESH truck made its first visit to Logan Square Health Center on Tuesday, September 22.

“The FRESH truck is a great way to get fresh produce to communities whose residents may not be able to afford healthy food or where there are limited grocery store options,” said Cook County Commissioner Luis Arroyo Jr., whose district includes Logan Square Health Center.

Patients who screen positive for food insecurity are also referred to the Food Depository’s SNAP Outreach Hotline if they need assistance applying for the federal nutrition program. In addition, they receive information on nearby food pantries in the Food Depository’s county-wide network of partner agencies.

“Food is medicine. By connecting our patients with reliable sources of food we can better care for their health and mitigate avoidable health consequences associated with hunger and poor nutrition,” said Dr. Jay Shannon, CEO, CCH.

This program is expected to be rolled out at all CCH clinics in the coming months.