By Fred Mariscal, Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention
Public Health’s Food Insecurity Screening Community of Practice is a group of healthcare and community partners working to help ensure all communities have what they need to be healthy. This partnership aims to go beyond educating people to make healthier choices by breaking down barriers that stand in the way of health equity. As a collective group, there is a firm understanding of the need to streamline access to health care and organizations that address social needs. To tackle health disparities in communities, health centers must collaborate with community organizations doing the work.
Food insecurity is increasing
Since the pandemic, the level of food insecurity among Washington state residents has dramatically increased from 10 percent before the COVID-19 pandemic to 27 percent today, according to the latest University of Washington and Washington State University research on food insecurity and food assistance in the state. In March of this year alone, over 109,000 households received Basic Food assistance in King County. Unfortunately, in communities of color, food insecurity levels are higher, and the pandemic has made things worse.
“Funding to combat food insecurity has created opportunities to think innovatively about how to streamline connecting communities to resources. A shift in approach needs to address the root causes of food insecurity, which are correlated to systemic racism.”Sandy Centeno, Healthy Eating, Active Living Program Manager – King County
One example of this work to address food insecurity is the partnership between Sea Mar Medical Clinic and the White Center Food Bank to open an on-site food pantry.
On March 22nd, Sea Mar White Center, a member of the Community of Practice teamed up with White Center Food Bank to open a food pantry on-site at their health clinic. To date, the pantry has provided food to over 100 families.
Sea Mar is also piloting a food insecurity screening tool to determine patients’ needs and then connecting them with resources that help alleviate the burden of food insecurity.
“Sea Mar and the Health Education program strives to address social determinants of health that impact patients’ overall wellbeing, including access to nutritious food. The food pantry is a tangible, point-of-care solution to addressing the needs of food insecure patients.”Maddi Rinehart, Sea Mar Community Health Centers Health Educator
Sea Mar has customer service representatives at most of their primary care facilities who can assist people applying for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for the first time. Patients are always welcome to request this service at no charge. U.S. citizens and residents can also apply for Food Stamps, SNAP, and the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) system directly by visiting Washington Connection or by calling (877) 501-2233 (press 2 for Spanish).
For additional information and eligibility, people can visit the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. Unfortunately, it’s important to note that people must be U.S. citizens or documented residents to apply.
Be part of the solution
You can donate. The White Center Food Bank’s mission is to minimize hunger while nourishing community, nurturing self-reliance, and embracing our rich cultural diversity. Please visit the White Center Food Bank Donation site whitecenterfoodbank.networkforgood.com and help keep White Center fed!
You can volunteer. White Center Food Bank is a volunteer-driven organization with only five paid full-time staff members. When they are open for distribution, it takes 20-25 volunteers to run the food bank. Each year, volunteers serve nearly 15,000 hours at the food bank and have helped distribute over 1 million pounds of food. Please visit whitecenterfoodbank.org/volunteer.
Food insecurity is a complex issue caused by many factors. We must continue working to break down barriers to health equity and make it easier for communities in need to access all the available resources and programs at their disposal. Public Health’s Community of Practice has shown that increased collaboration between government, the healthcare sector, and community organizations is a step forward in the right direction.
Originally published 5/9/22. Updated 5/11/22.