The Food Pharmacy at HealthRIGHT 360
Each week, our NHC-SF AmeriCorps members will blog about their 2019-2020 year of service. NHC members will gain invaluable experience while supporting the health care safety net by serving at host sites such as community health centers and Department of Public Health sites to provide health education and care to vulnerable and underserved SF residents.
My name is Joanne, and I am serving as the Nutrition Care Coordinator at the HealthRIGHT 360 Integrated Care Center. This is only my sixth week as an AmeriCorps member and my fifth week at HealthRIGHT 360, but so far it has been a positive learning experience.
One of the highlights of every week is definitely the Food Pharmacy, which is held on Thursday afternoons from 3:30pm to 5:00pm and led by our registered dietitian, Mariana, with whom I work closely. The Food Pharmacy setup is similar to that of a farmers’ market, where fresh produce is made available to patients at HealthRIGHT 360. It also consists of nutrition education and cooking demonstrations by Mariana and is a warm and welcoming environment. The Food Pharmacies are scattered throughout the city, and while this is one of the newer ones, it is the biggest one. Last week, we had 60 patients show up. The first 15-20 minutes are always the busiest. Towards the end, a limited variety of foods remain, such as apples and potatoes.
All of the Food Pharmacies are similar in their food setup, but the nutrition education and food demonstration portions may vary. I had previously volunteered at the Food Pharmacy at Silver Avenue Family Health Center (SAFHC) prior to beginning my service here and thoroughly enjoyed my time there. I had the privilege of building lasting connections with patients and helping create a space that patients looked forward to coming. SAFHC is a smaller clinic, and the patient population consists mostly of older adults. HealthRIGHT 360, on the other hand, has patients with a wider age range, from young adults in their 20s to people in their 70s. While SAFHC has two trained health coaches and an on-site pharmacist, who take patients’ blood pressure each time they come in, different providers at HealthRIGHT 360 rotate each week to see patients during their time at Food Pharmacy. All Food Pharmacies occur once a week and generally last 1.5-2 hours.
What I love about Food Pharmacies is that they tackle the problem of food insecurity. Many people have the misconception that what we eat and how much we exercise determine the bulk of our health, when in fact social determinants of health play a much bigger role. While we cannot deny the importance of food and nutrition, our zip code and whether we have access to fresh produce have an even greater impact on our health. Instead of simply preaching to our patients to eat more fruits and vegetables, we actually provide them with fresh groceries and show them different ways to eat them, through food demonstrations and/or by providing recipe cards and books. Some of the past food demonstrations include watermelon feta salad, breakfast tortillas, turmeric curry rice, and roasted chickpeas. Food demonstrations usually involve one or more food item that patients receive that week and are a great way to encourage them to consume a variety of foods and to try new foods. I look forward to continuing to help out at the Food Pharmacy and to use my experience volunteering at SAFHC to expand the Food Pharmacy at HealthRIGHT 360.