Although only 5 percent of adults in the St. Mary Medical Center service area report that access to fresh produce is difficult or very difficult, this represents approximately 143,000 adults in the service area. Racial and ethnic minorities also find it more difficult to access fresh produce in their neighborhood. The same is true for adults living below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. Adults who find it difficult to access fruits and vegetables are more likely to be in fair or poor health than in excellent, very good, or good health. Adults who find it very easy to find fruits and vegetables are more likely to be in excellent, very good, or good health. Adults with chronic illnesses, such as asthma and diabetes, also find it more difficult to access fruits and vegetables.
In 2013, the hospital launched the St. Mary Farm to Families (F2F) program to address the unmet need for people in our service area to access fresh foods to improve overall health. The F2F boxes are offered in two sizes: a small $10 box for a family size of two to three, or a large $15 box to accommodate a family of four to five. The boxes are built around the healthy plate model, offering one leafy green, one starchy vegetable, two types of fruits and two types of vegetables.
The program uses a three-pillar approach to promote sustainability by providing:
- Improved Access to healthy organic foods at affordable prices with strategic locations to minimize the transportation barrier.
- Education by a registered dietitian on site, who provides a first taste of a recipe made from food box contents as well as multi-lingual take-home recipes and tips.
- Connectivity through a culture of inclusion and acceptance among a diverse fiscal, ethnic and religious population. WIC, SNAP and Food Pantry participants are able to use their benefits and receive an additional subsidy requiring them to pay only $5 per box.
Our service area provides three pick-up sites to maximize access. St. Mary partners with St. Christopher Foundation for children and Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative to provide the produce each week, as well as local physicians and social agencies to recommend families that would most benefit from the program.
Program outcomes are tracked through an assessment survey measuring behavioral changes, confidence, efficacy, and food security. The survey is administered at the first pick up and every six months thereafter via survey monkey. Each site is equipped with two iPads to capture survey participation on site.
In April 2017, Fresh Connect was launched. The program uses a direct-service approach to address food insecurity by bringing the fresh food directly to the neighborhood communities with a delivery system occurring in neighborhood locations. Fresh Connect provides local residents with a reliable, sustainable healthy food source. The open-air free mobile market promotes community cohesiveness, volunteerism and pride in the neighborhood. St. Mary provides a food tasting, recipe and food storage tips based on the produce being distributed that day.
To receive produce, participants are asked basic household information for the purposes of reporting. Participating in Fresh Connect does not affect participants’ eligibility for other benefits. The participants complete a registration form on their first visit and are entered into the data system. On the second visit, their information is confirmed. During the third visit, participants receive a bar code card that is scanned during each subsequent visit. The bar code streamlines the weekly registration, data collection and food distribution.
In fall 2017, an assessment tool was adapted from the Farm to Families validated survey to capture the behavior and health outcomes associated with improved nutritional choices and diet of the Fresh Connect Market.
In 2017, 930 new individuals were served through Farm to Families, with an increase of 20 percent of SNAP participants. In 2016, 660 families purchased 6,296 boxes in F2F, with 150 to 200 people on average placing weekly orders. Based on analytic data from pre- and post-surveys, the F2F program had a significant positive impact on those who participated more than once by changing their eating and cooking knowledge and behaviors to healthier practices, and significantly improving their self-reported health status, energy levels, and participation in exercise. F2F participants who attended the program more than once were significantly more likely to be in excellent or very good health, to feel energetic most days, and to exercise three or more times a week than those who were attending their first meeting. The adults who attended the program more than once were also more likely than those who were participating for the first time to feel very sure that they could plan and cook healthy food at home and try new healthy recipes and foods.
When Fresh Connect was launched, more than 150 individuals received produce on the first delivery at a location in the community with the highest volume of food insecurity in the county. The second site, located in the more rural upper county, opened with more than 60 individuals.
St. Mary has developed a collective impact approach to address food insecurity by collaborating with community partners: Bucks County Opportunity Council, Philabundance, Rolling Harvest Food Rescue with funding from the United Way Bucks County.
Families are willing to make and try new recipes the longer they participate. The social connectivity between staff and participants has reduced the isolation of some of the senior participants.
The future goals for Fresh Connect will be a third site in the Warminster/Warrington in Bucks County, where resources for food insecurity are limited but the volume is increasing.
Contact: Karen O’Donnell
Director, Corporate & Foundation Relations