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Food Bank in Nappi Wellness Institute assures patients facing food insecurity go home with food for family

Upstate Medical University and the Food Bank of CNY are working together to promote food as medicine and to provide food to patients who need it.

Thanks to a $130,000 grant from United Healthcare, Upstate offering ways for patients who screen as food insecure to obtain food.

A food pantry that opened in the Nappi Wellness Institute last summer already has distributed more than 600 bags of food serving nearly 1,200 household family members.

“The need is great,” said Amalia Swan, chief community impact officer for the Food Bank. “We want to create the understanding that food is medicine, making that connection with good health and good nutrition.”

“We are really grateful to the Food Bank of CNY for all they have done on this project,” said Upstate’s Caitlin Toomey, MD. “Getting the food pantry to Nappi and expanding it to all the clinics has been a big team project. Any patient who screens positive are asked if they would like a bag of groceries to take home.”

During each appointment with patients, providers inquire about food insecurity. If a patient replies yes to having food insecurity, steps are taken to provide them with food on the spot and to connect them with more services.

Participants chose items from a list of proteins, vegetables, fruit, grain and milk. Staff then collect the food from the pantry and bring it to the patient. Swan adds that the process is discreet and confidential.

Toomey, medical director of population health, Adult Medicine, credits Maribeth Schoeneck, quality compliance specialist in Adult Medicine; Lisa Winkler BSN, RN; Meg Lyttle LMSW; Stacey Keefe, Hospital Administration; Emeline McShane, Adult Medicine; Justine White, LMSW; and Yowali Singh, Ambulatory Services Administration, on the project.

“The goal is to help patients and their families eliminate the stress of food insecurity,” said Schoeneck, who stocks and manages the pantry. “The importance of this initiative is showing that primary care is not just about a patient’s physical health, it’s about the whole patient and their well-being. Primary care focuses on all the patients’ needs and something like food insecurity trickles down onto one’s physical, mental and behavior health.”

Helping to coordinate the food pantry in the Nappi Wellness Institute are, from left, Margaret Lyttle, Stephanie Livermore, Maribeth Schoeneck and Justine White.