Imagine having one of the top 10 causes of death in the United States, but not even knowing it. In 2018, more than 34 million adults had diabetes, but of those, more than seven million were undiagnosed. Summit Health Cares (SHC) realizes the health threat diabetes poses, and because of this, there’s a program to help.
SHC’s Food, Health, Hope: An Answer to Diabetes (FHH) program is in its third year. The program works to identify food pantry clients who have pre-diabetes, diabetes, hypertension or obesity, providing them access to health care they may not otherwise have. “There are so many people in our own very close community that we work and live in that have a lot of needs,” expressed Dr. Marco Ucciferri, Summit Health Podiatric Surgeon and FHH volunteer. “FHH allows us to give back to the community.”
Participants enroll in a year-long program complete with quarterly health screenings and evidence-based diabetes, nutrition and lifestyle education. They also work one-on-one with SHC staff and Summit Health volunteers to set individual health goals. The program’s food bank partner, the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, is critical to the success of the program – providing participants with supplements of diabetes appropriate foods in addition to their normal food pantry distribution.
One participant described how the program was helping with positive life changes: “… [SHC’s screening program] taught me a lot of what is good for me, how to better monitor blood sugar and blood pressure. Taught me to supplement with fruits and veggies and how to have better portion control.”
FHH is targeted in Essex, Passaic and Union counties where type 2 diabetes rates are significant. And this year, that’s incredibly important. Keeping diabetes under control is one of the best defenses against COVID-19. In order to keep people safe during the pandemic, SHC implemented even stricter health and safety guidelines (e.g., full personal protective equipment, social distancing, required masks, sanitized surfaces after every client interaction) and tweaked the program. To limit the length of face-to-face contact, SHC began setting individual appointments, with reminder calls to participants, as well as follow-up calls to discuss results, participants’ challenges and goals, and to provide medical referrals if needed – all in an effort to help participants make lifestyle changes to better manage their conditions and limit the risks from COVID-19.
Participants in FHH receive health-improving benefits, such as:
- Free healthy, diabetes-appropriate food boxes with fresh produce, whole grains, and lean meats twice a month, in addition to normal food pantry distribution;
- Culturally and ethnically sensitive recipes;
- Free nutrition, diabetes, and healthy lifestyle education (both in-person counseling with SMGF staff and clinical volunteers and via brochures and workbooks, during the pandemic);
- Free quarterly health screenings and education for obesity, hypertension, and diabetes;
- Assistance with individual goal setting;
- Free annual multi-specialty screening in bodily areas affected by diabetes, including feet and eyes; and
- Referrals to community resources.
After the second year, SHC asked an independent, outside firm to conduct an evaluation to determine what was working and what could be done to improve the outcomes of participants. The results continue to demonstrate the tremendous success of the program. Eighty-four percent of participants improved in one or more measured health indicator values (HbA1c, blood pressure, BMI) and 95% reported making positive behavior changes as a result of the program. What’s more, even though nearly 46% said COVID-19 made it harder to properly take care of themselves due to their fears about the pandemic, the overall percentage of participants who improved on at least one of the health indicators (HbA1c, blood pressure, BMI) was sustained – even after the onset of the pandemic.
Participants were grateful for the additional care and motivated to continue their own success: “What I really appreciate the most is how well they took care of me during the pandemic, with food delivery and the check-up calls. The program was fantastic.”
FHH is made possible by grant funding from the American Medical Association Foundation and The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, and through the generous support of SHC’s individual and corporate donors. But importantly, the program couldn’t exist if it weren’t for the hundreds of Summit Health volunteers – who came out in droves to support the community, even in the middle of a pandemic. Thank you to everyone who helped make FHH a success, helping the community work towards a healthier tomorrow.
On a Roll: FHH Year 2 a Success
- 95% changed their behaviors because of what they learned in the program
- Nearly 82% achieved their health goals by participating in the program
- 98% learned more about how to eat a healthier diet
- Nearly 98% felt setting a goal was helpful in making positive behavioral changes
- More than ⅓ increased physical activity as a result of the program
- 41% made a positive change by eating fewer unhealthy foods (e.g., fast food, sodas, etc.)
Participating Food Pantries in FHH Year Three
- St. Joseph Social Service Center in Elizabeth
- Solid Rock Baptist Food Pantry in Irvington
- Deeper Life Bible Church in Irvington
- Canaan Baptist Church in Newark
- Eben-Ezer Food Pantry in Newark
- Interfaith Food Pantry of the Oranges in Orange
- SDA Church of the Oranges in Orange
- Father English Community Center in Paterson
- Greater Refuge Church Food Pantry in Plainfield