Rx for Food

As the Executive Director of a food bank/pantry, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to reach hungry people in our community.

Even though we serve over 30,000 individuals each year, we know that 75,000 people live in poverty in Northern Virginia. That gap keeps me up at night.

How do we reach people who don’t know about us or can’t get to us? One way is through our Rx for Food program, which we’re hoping to combine with a mobile food pantry very soon.

Pediatricians screen for hunger

Food for Others joined forces with Burke Pediatrics, several county offices and the Capital Area Food Bank in early 2017 after The American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that pediatricians screen families for food insecurity using the Hunger Vital Sign toolkit.

According to the toolkit, “childhood food insecurity can lead to poor health status, developmental risk, mental health problems, and poor educational outcomes.”

Among children of all ages, food insecurity can hinder growth and development, reduce their capacity to learn in school, and cause them to struggle behaviorally and emotionally.

After working to educate healthcare providers about Fairfax County’s food resources, Food for Others officially started its Rx for Food program in the summer of 2017.

Rx for Food Program

Through the Rx for Food program, doctors screen their patients for food insecurity and refer them to Food for Others with a prescription for food.

We started the pilot program with Burke Pediatrics, and it has since grown to include Pediatric Specialists of Virginia PSV, Neighborhood Health, the InovaCares Clinic for Children, NOVA Pediatrics, Capital Area Pediatrics, and the Fairfax County Health Department.

Food for Others has filled a total of 579 prescriptions for 2,515 individuals and distributed 63,971 pounds of food.  And many of these clients had never heard of us before.

“Food insecurity is detrimental to children’s health and overall well-being” said Dr. Moyer from PSV.  “Being able to connect families with Food for Others to get them the help that they need has been extremely rewarding and humbling for all members of our care team.”

Reaching kids through mobile

Sadly, not every family who received an Rx for food has been able to fill it. The Fairfax County Health Department followed up with those clients and found that, for many families, lack of transportation prevented them from getting their food.

We know this to be true not only for the families that come to us through the RX for Food program but also for those who come to us from with referrals from all over Northern Virginia.

That is why developing a mobile food pantry is so critical to the mission of Food for Others.  It will allow us to further our reach in the community, promote food equity, and create a level playing field for all of our neighbors in need.

We are hoping to coordinate our mobile food distribution efforts to sites where doctors screen patients for food insecurity among other locations. That way, families can fill their prescriptions for groceries immediately, without the added hassle of making the long and potentially costly trip to our warehouse.

Taking our services out into the community will enable Food for Others to achieve our goal of closing the gap on food insecurity!

Annie Turner is the Executive Director of Food for Others.