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Food pharmacy boxes to address food insecure Novant Health patients

Grace Vitaglione
(Left to right): Novant Health NHRMC oncology-certified dietitian Catherine Hankins, Wilmington-area Food Lion Director of Operations Jimmy Jones, and Novant Health NHRMC Director of Community Engagement Sarah Arthur at the media event for the food pharmacy program.

Food-insecure patients at Novant Health’s New Hanover Regional Medical Center can now receive food pharmacy boxes from a new partnership with Food Lion

Many patients who have worried about running out of food before their next paycheck will be eligible for these boxes.

Novant Health oncology-certified dietitian Catherine Hankins said social barriers are key aspects of people’s health.

“For some of our patients, the choice comes down to: do I spend my money to get the medicine I need, or to buy gas for my car to come to my appointment, or do I buy food?" Hankins said.

Cost is one issue — but access is another. New Hanover County has six food deserts, areas without access to nutritious meals. There is no full-service grocery store in the downtown Wilmington area, for example.

Hankins says inpatients, often those from the ER, along with cancer patients at the medical center may be screened for food insecurity, as well as patients at Coastal Family Medicine or those identified by the community outreach dietitian.

Food Lion's director of operations for the Wilmington-area, Jimmy Jones, said the program will use food as medicine to help patients manage chronic illnesses by providing access to nutritious foods, hence the name “food pharmacy box.”

The boxes, given to patients upon discharge, contain non-perishable items such as oatmeal, beans, and dry milk that rank well on Food Lion’s nutritional rating system, called Guiding Stars. Products are ranked from one to three stars, with three being the most nutritious.

Food Lion committed to providing nearly 3,000 of these boxes over two years.

Grace is a multimedia journalist recently graduated from American University. She's attracted to issues of inequity and her reporting has spanned racial disparities in healthcare, immigration detention and college culture. In the past, she's investigated ICE detainee deaths at the Investigative Reporting Workshop, worked on an award-winning investigative podcast, and produced student-led video stories.