On a recent warm summer morning, Jennifer, a patient at NewYork-Presbyterian’s Washington Heights Family Health Center, went shopping at a mobile food market on 181st Street. She filled her pushcart with everything her family of four needs for healthy meals: milk, eggs, bread, rice, peanut butter, pasta, beans, fresh corn, grapes, apples, peaches, heads of broccoli, cucumbers, onions, potatoes, carrots, and an eggplant.
“What I like about coming here is that everything is fresh, everything is healthy, and it’s good for us,” Jennifer says. “There’s stuff I don’t buy in the supermarket that I get here. It’s really good.”
The cost to Jennifer? Nothing. Everything she took home was free.
The food was available through Food FARMacia, a mobile food market for at-risk members of the Washington Heights community. The program is a collaboration between NewYork-Presbyterian’s Ambulatory Care Network, Choosing Healthy and Active Lifestyles for Kids (CHALK), NewYork-Presbyterian’s obesity prevention program, which fosters healthy lifestyle choices for kids, and the West Side Campaign Against Hunger, a nonprofit that works to alleviate hunger. The mobile food market is open every other Tuesday, rain or shine, and is right outside the front door of the Washington Heights Family Health Center.
Food FARMacia was launched as a six-month pilot program in June 2019 after staff at the Washington Heights Family Health Center — part of NewYork-Presbyterian’s Ambulatory Care Network — found that nearly 30% of the families with young children who came to the clinic said they couldn’t always afford food, approximately twice the citywide rate. To date, 42 families have been registered, translating to approximately 190 individuals. Families take home between 25 to 30 pounds of food at each visit, and the program has given away around 6,500 pounds of food since the launch.
“Recognizing that food insecurity is the biggest issue for the young children in our clinic and their families, we decided we needed to design an intervention,” explains Davina Prabhu, vice president of the Ambulatory Care Network in the Division of Community and Population Health at NewYork-Presbyterian. “But we’re not just here for that one intervention or one-time interaction with our patients. We’re here so we can help reduce or prevent health disparities. That’s why we teamed up with the West Side Campaign Against Hunger to provide a regular mobile food market.”
Prabhu says her team in the Division of Community and Population Health focuses on the social needs of the community because everyone’s health and well-being relies on having basic needs met, like housing, transportation, and food. Families that qualify for the Food FARMacia program are able to choose from a wide variety of both dry goods and fresh fruits and vegetables. At the truck, patients, some alone, some with their children in tow, shop as if they are in a grocery store, with the freedom to pick the items they want.