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'Food might be the hardest thing": VCU, Feed More connect Richmonders to food resources
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'Food might be the hardest thing": VCU, Feed More connect Richmonders to food resources

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When Rebecca Biers asks her patients if they are struggling to access food, many say yes.

Biers, a Virginia Commonwealth University Health Enhanced Care Management medical outreach worker, then asks if they need food that same day. If they again answer yes, Biers is able to provide them with food boxes through a partnership with Feed More, a central Virginia hunger-relief organization.

The patients, many of whom are in the mid-sixties or older, leave the VCU clinic with a box of rice, dried beans, cereal, oatmeal, tuna, canned vegetables and canned fruit.

“Unfortunately, food is one of the last things a lot of people think about, especially if they have children,” Biers said. “They are trying to make sure they have shelter, keep the electricity on. And as important as food is, I feel like it’s the last that people think about.”

Two years ago Feeding America, a domestic hunger-relief organization, launched the Food is Medicine program to assist those who are facing hunger. The program, held at various Feed America member food banks, screens children and adults through a series of questions to see if they need to be referred to a hunger hotline, receive a box of food on the spot or both.

Feed More and the VCU Health System teamed up two years ago to participate in the Food is Medicine program.

When asking questions, Biers makes the environment relaxing so the patient is comfortable to share their story. For some people, asking for help is difficult or uncomfortable, Biers said.

Sydney Orgel, a Feed More client resource coordinator who oversees the Food is Medicine program, connects patients to ongoing food resources through the Hunger Hotline.

“The big part of this whole partnership [with VCU] is addressing the root causes of diet-related diseases and making that connection of food insecurity and health,” Orgel said.

The Anthem Foundation, part of the Anthem, Inc. health care company, gave a million-dollar grant to Feeding America in 2019. In October, Anthem gave another million-dollar grant to Feed More to help fund its partnership with VCU.

The October funding will help add three adult outpatient clinics and four pediatric clinics within VCU. There are currently 10 clinics through the Feed More and VCU partnership, Orgel said.

During the inaugural year, at four VCU Health outpatient clinics, 41% of patients were food insecure, with 82% of those receiving a food box on the spot, according to Feed More.

Between May 2021 and January 2022, Feed More set a goal to screen 1,000 patients. In late October, Feed More had surpassed that goal by screening nearly 1,900 patients, Orgel said.

A result of the partnership is Feed More’s ability to reach the Richmond region’s Latino community. The program has seen an influx of Spanish-speaking clients, which Orgel said “sparked” the creation of a Spanish hunger hotline.

While still in development, Orgel said a realization occurred that more supports were necessary to help the Latino community.

For Biers, she helps many patients navigate transportation struggles.

“They might have all the money in the world to find food, but if they don’t have transportation to get there or they have to take five buses to get to a grocery store, we have to address that problem to make sure somebody is eating,” Biers said.

Biers connects patients to community nonprofits or helps find them a form of transportation to travel to and from a grocery store.

“We’re not just focusing on the one need, we are focusing on the patient as a whole,” Biers said. “Food might be the hardest thing.”

jnocera@timesdispatch.com Twitter: @jessmnocera

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