A patient visiting a dietitian at Akron Children’s Hospital is taken to a garden teeming with bees, vegetables and herbs. There, the dietician educates the patient and his family about nutrition and educates them about the uses of various vegetables that are easily grown in Ohio.
Once the crops are ready for harvest, they are brought to the hospital’s food pantry where food-insecure patients can access them as needed.
This is the vision for Akron Children’s Hospital’s Food Farm and Education and Wellness Garden launched during Tuesday’s ceremony.
“Nothing a child is quite as engaged as being able to touch, smell, see and talk sort of in that space,” said Mike Fulino, director of support services at the hospital. “Our job is to make these kids comfortable and for parents to feel comfortable with vegetables, produce and gardening.”
Foligno hopes to start bringing patients to the park by the end of the summer. The plan is to use the garden for educational purposes during future summers and then move the harvest to Food Farmacy’s stores.
The farm food pilot program is being funded by a grant from the Ohio Department of Medicaid to the Akron Canton Regional Food Bank guaranteed by Representative Emilia Sykes. The grant aims to support food insecure chronically ill patients and their families who live in Summit County.
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“It would be great to have a food bank,” Sykes said after the ceremony. “But when you educate and educate someone about their diet and lifestyle and then force them to go to another building or another place, they give up. This makes it easy and helps people make those changes.”
This desire for accessibility is why—once Food Farmacy opens later this fall—it will be located on the ground floor of the Considine Professional Building at 215 W. Bowery St. From the building or come to the bus stop across the street when you get food.
“Akron Children and our providers are actually reaching out to families who are already food insecure and whose children have chronic health problems,” said Lisa Aurelio, the hospital’s director of operations.
“We are very pleased to be able to launch Food Farmacy to have an actual on-site solution so that we can address the issue directly,” she added. Now, we can say, ‘Go downstairs in the elevator, and we’ll get you the food you need. “
Currently, the garden, which is funded by the hospital, looks a bit barren as crops were planted in late June and early July, an inappropriate time to start a garden. However, there are already mature tomatoes hanging from the vines and radishes peeking out of the soil. Foligno hopes the garden will be full and vibrant next year when you start early.
Both the garden and pantry are for families of patients and staff who need access to food, said Burnett Williams, president of diversity, equality and inclusion at the hospital and vice president for community initiatives.
“Our patients’ families are diverse, and we will do everything we can to include food in our pantry that reflects the different communities we serve,” Williams said during the ceremony. “We don’t want our families to feel welcome just by knowing they can come to the food bank, but also to encourage the development of the food farm with them in mind.”
During the first phase of the program, stores will provide food to patients who answer yes to one of the two questions on the screening tool. The questions ask whether the person was concerned about their ability to buy food in the past 12 months or if they ran out of food and had no money to buy more in the past 12 months.
Patients identified as food insecure will then be screened to ensure their eligibility for income. The patient’s income must be less than the minimum family size to be eligible for state and federally funded food programs.
In Summit County, 12.5% of the population is food insecure, according to hunger relief organization Feeding America, and more than 18% of children in the county are food insecure.
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The food, offered by the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank, consists mainly of non-perishable items, although other items will be offered based on availability. Once a patient has access to services through a storeroom, they can return as often as needed.
“It was one of those things I can’t believe we didn’t think of doing sooner,” Dan Flowers, president and CEO of regional food bank Akron Canton, said after the ceremony.
“When people come in, doctors will basically be able to write a prescription for people to go to the pantry and get the food they need, and I think that’s a great thing.”
The Akron Children’s Hospital food pantry is the last of three to be launched at area hospitals this year through the pilot program.
Cleveland Clinic Akron General opened its pantry in late June, and Summa Health opened its pantry in mid-July.
Cleveland Clinic Akron General
Akron General’s food pantry was the first to open through the pilot program and serves patients of the hospital’s Family Medicine Center located on the second floor of 1 Akron General Ave.
The store is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a one-hour break from noon Monday through Friday.
Since the pantry opened in late June, it has served about 24 families, or about 60 people, Cleveland Clinic Akron spokeswoman Beth Hertz said.
Summa Health opened its pantry on July 11, which serves patients of the hospital’s Family Medicine Center.
The store, located on the third floor of 55 Arch Street, is open to eligible patients from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Patients do not need to be on an appointment at the center to receive food.