With her arms full of fresh fruits and vegetables, courtesy of the Greater Chicago Food Depository FRESH Truck, Carmelita Dorsey was eager to get to her Blue Island home to prepare a big healthy salad for lunch.
Dorsey was just one of more than 125 community members who received “food prescriptions” from their doctors at the Oak Forest Health Center for a recent visit by the FRESH Truck, a walk-through refrigerated vehicle lined with shelves of fresh produce that community members can take home at no cost.
“I couldn’t sleep last night just thinking about all the good food I was going to get today. I love to cook, but on my limited income one cucumber is usually all I can afford. Now I have tomatoes, cabbage, celery, potatoes, onion, and even a pineapple,” said Dorsey.
As part of the partnership between the Food Depository and the Cook County Health, last year physicians at several outpatient clinics began screening patients for food insecurity. Initial results revealed that more than 30% of screened patients do not have consistent access to food.
“There is no doubt that nutrition is a very important part of good health,” said Dr. Chukwuemka Ezike, family practice physician at the Oak Forest Health Center. “Apart from lacking knowledge about making good food choices, many of our patients lack transportation or live in areas where there just isn’t anywhere close to get healthy, quality food.”
Dr. Ezike says the FRESH Truck is a great opportunity for his patients, many of whom suffer from high cholesterol, diabetes and hypertension, to try some healthy foods they’ve never had.
“Fresh food is expensive so some patients won’t take a chance on it. I hope that by trying it first, they will enjoy it and be more likely to make good choices in the future,” said Dr. Ezike.
Although food insecurity exists in every community in the county, some areas experience higher concentration of needs, particularly in the South Suburbs. Ford Heights, Robbins, Phoenix, Harvey and Riverdale have some of the highest food insecurity rates in the state, ranging from 33% to 50%.
In addition to the FRESH Truck vouchers, patients who screen positive for food insecurity are referred to the Food Depository’s SNAP Outreach Hotline if they need assistance applying for the federal nutrition program. Patients also receive information on nearby food pantries in the Food Depository’s county-wide network of partner agencies. And in a new initiative that started in July, the Food Depository is offering free summer lunches to children at three CCH health centers: Englewood, Cottage Grove and Robbins.
The FRESH Truck is making the rounds to several of the CCH outpatient clinics. It previously visited the Logan Square and Robbins Health Center. The next stop is the Cottage Grove Health Center in Ford Heights on August 9.
Kim Waterman, Communications Manager