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<p>Ashe Memorial Hospital Pantry provides a food pantry box filled with nutritious, wholesome foods to any patient who identifies as food insecure.</p>

Ashe Memorial Hospital launches food pantry for patients

All patients are screened for hunger security and those in need are given a box from the hospital’s food pantry upon discharge.

In Ashe County, N.C., one in six adults and one in three children have limited access to food. All too often these individuals have to make the difficult choice between buying food or buying medicine. 

To ease that anxiety for patients in need, Ashe Memorial Hospital (AMH) in Jefferson launched the The Ashe Memorial Hospital Pantry—a program that gives a food pantry box filled with nutritious, wholesome foods to any patient who identifies as food insecure.

“We screen every patient who comes through our facility,” says Melissa Lewis, community outreach director and food pantry project coordinator. “We ask them two questions: ‘Did you run out of food before you had money to buy more;’ and ‘Are you worried you will run out of food before you will have money to buy more.’”

Any patient who answers yes to either question automatically gets a box at discharge—no more questions asked. 

The boxes are prepared and packed by the Ashe County Sharing Center with food donated from the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina. They are delivered to the hospital and replenished as needed.

Since December 2015, AMH has given out 186 boxes. And, according to Lewis, the numbers continue to climb each month.

“The pantry is a perfect example of two programs—AMH and the Sharing Center—joining together in a true partnership to address a need in our own community,” says Kelly Vannoy, board chair for the Sharing Center. “The Ashe Memorial Hospital Pantry is a first step toward hunger security for many who would or have never visited a food pantry. It not only solves an immediate problem, but it also directs folks to the Sharing Center and other local programs where they can access food.”

Representatives who helped make the pantry a reality: (L-R) Kelly Vannoy, Ashe County Sharing Center chair; Jan Jones, regional outreach manager Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina; Clyde Fitzgerald Jr., executive director Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina; Laura Lambeth, AMH CEO; Michael Sexton, Ashe County Sharing executive director; Melissa Lewis, RN, AMH community outreach coordinator.

Getting the pantry up and running was relatively seamless, notes Lewis. 

“When [Vannoy] approached me about having the hospital as their fourth food pantry, it made complete sense to me,” says Laura Lambeth, CEO of AMH. “I immediately said yes. We didn’t worry too much about the logistics of it because I knew [Lewis] would be able to figure it out.”

And she did. The initial meeting was on a Thursday and the first food box was handed out on the subsequent Monday. 

Since then, Lewis has been tracking information on patients who get a box to see if there are any trends or repeats. She looks at age, sex, reason for diagnosis, insurance and whether or not they are a smoker.

“We’ve had two repeat patients since we started the pantry,” she says. “Both had chronic conditions.” 

As a result, AMH is looking to loop dietitians into the pantry process and even build boxes specific to special dietary needs.

While AMH’s foodservice department isn’t involved in the pantry program at this point, it’s easy to see how getting foodservice departments involved could be beneficial not only for the community but also with helping hospitals with meeting the Affordable Care Act, which penalizes them for readmissions.

“Our community is not unique,” Vannoy says. “I suspect that other communities have similar challenges and would benefit from having similar programs available. One reason I believe this project works is that both groups have the same philosophy—how can we better serve the people of Ashe County. It’s not about the hospital. It is not about the Sharing Center. It’s about the folks who come to us every day needing a little help, whether it’s a health issue, a food issue, or often times both.”  

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