In the early months of the pandemic, healthcare workers across NewYork-Presbyterian were struck by a problem that increasingly came to light during conversations with their patients.
“People were getting furloughed or losing their jobs, and a lot of people would come into the hospital either without medications or rationing their insulin because they had to decide between food or medicine,” says Aarti Patel, a physician assistant at NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, 1.2 million New Yorkers were already struggling to afford and gain access to nutritious food to feed themselves and their families, according to City Harvest, one of the city’s largest nonprofits dedicated to emergency food distribution. Food and nutrition, research shows, directly affect health and social outcomes, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, maternal depression, and academic performance.
Since the COVID pandemic hit New York City in March 2020, the number of people facing food insecurity is estimated to have increased by a staggering 38%, with one in four children unsure of where their next meal may come from.
“Rates of food insecurity skyrocketed, and people who were never food insecure before joined many others experiencing this issue,” says Emma Hulse, a manager in NewYork Presbyterian’s Division of Community and Population Health who oversees the hospital’s food distribution program, Food Farmacy.
Prior to the pandemic, Food Farmacy — a collaboration between NewYork-Presbyterian’s Ambulatory Care Network; Choosing Healthy and Active Lifestyles for Kids (CHALK), NewYork-Presbyterian’s obesity prevention program; and the West Side Campaign Against Hunger, a local nonprofit that works to alleviate hunger — ran a free mobile food market for at-risk patients in the Washington Heights community. In response to the growing food insecurity crisis, NewYork-Presbyterian worked with Nido de Esperanza, Rena Day Care Centers Inc., and the Mexican Coalition for the Empowerment of Youth and Families to expand the program’s food distribution efforts in northern Manhattan from one site to four and also teamed up with organizations in Lower Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and Westchester to increase the program’s geographical reach and provide food to more patients and community members in need.
Between March 16, 2020, and April 15, 2021, NewYork-Presbyterian went from serving 190 families to nearly 7,000 households across the region, says Hulse. In total, the program has distributed more than 1.1 million pounds of healthy food in the past year.