Prescribing Food as Medicine
Our Food Farmacies help families stay nourished and make healthy choices.
Cherrie lives with her two grandsons. The 17-year-old is over six feet tall, and his 13-year-old cousin is quickly catching up. They both ride their bikes to school, play sports for hours, and get really hungry.
“It’s like feeding a bottomless pit,” Cherrie says.
Cherrie had to stop working after a bad car accident, so she lives on a fixed income. Even with food stamps, it’s tough to keep enough food on the table to satisfy two ravenous teens – along with her other grandchildren, who spend much of their time at her home.
That’s why she relies on UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals Food Farmacies.
With a focus on prevention, physicians and other health care providers at our hospital have made the connection between food insecurity and children’s well-being. To connect families to healthy food choices, the Oakland campus holds two Food Farmacies a month for patients and their families. As many as 200 families are offered whole grains, fruits, vegetables, eggs and protein – all free of charge.
“There is nothing worse than being hungry,” Cherrie says. “This program is a godsend. There have been so many times it’s made the difference to my family having a full meal.”
There is nothing worse than being hungry...This program is a godsend.
During the pandemic, Food Farmacies have been in even greater demand. Families can now pick up bags of pre-packed foods with limited contact.
“Families are so happy to receive the food, and you see smiles on the kids’ faces,” says Rigoberto Del Toro, one of the program's leaders. “When I see people going home with food, I get the feeling that I’m doing good in the world.”
Still, for many families, transportation remains an insurmountable obstacle to reaching food resources. To help overcome this barrier, home grocery deliveries are now being offered to the most vulnerable families, those affected by COVID or otherwise unable to reach the clinic. Through a partnership with Farm Fresh to You, 20 families, including Cherrie’s, receive fresh produce, fruit, dairy and proteins delivered to their home twice a month.
This program doesn’t just provide food for families in immediate need. It’s setting up children to make smarter dietary choices for life, Del Toro says.
“When kids don’t live near a grocery store, they might just eat things like chips and cookies – processed foods. But when they see fruits and vegetables in their daily lives, it becomes normal,” Del Toro says. “That will stay with them when they are making choices at grocery stores later in their lives. That’s beautiful in and of itself.”
Cherrie agrees. “It’s wonderful to see that the boys even like raw carrots and broccoli. It’s such a blessing to have an organization like this that stands up to help your family.”