In the fall of 2018 UNC REX Healthcare, in Raleigh, became one of only a handful of hospitals nationally to open a patient-centered food pantry. Developed in a central, visible hospital location with the solid support of multiple hospital departments, the pantry provides food and local food resource information for in-patients who screen positive for food insecurity. (*Food insecurity is the condition of not knowing where your next meal is coming from, and being at acute risk of hunger.) The pantry is also seen as a first tangible step in answering the question: “What is the role of healthcare systems around food access and nutrition?”
Community Food Lab joined the UNC REX Healthcare team in early summer 2018 to provide a strategic systems approach to project development. We brought our project management skills to help drive the day-to-day progress of a multi-disciplinary team, and we brought our food systems and strategic thinking capacity to help the pantry maintain an aspirational attitude towards change. In other words, we stewarded the big questions while also tracking through the logistical tasks needed to open the pantry on time. Our final product has been a report capturing the process of developing the pantry, recommendations on measuring success, and ideas on next steps for REX in building greater food access and health connections across its entire community.
The motivation to start this pantry emerged from the Hospital’s food and nutrition department. Having seen a similar pantry at Hennepin Health in Minneapolis, REX’s Culinary Director began asking how REX could take on a pantry project that builds off of their leading edge, award-winning food program, and lead to a new teaching and demonstration kitchen. Important early support came from the hospital’s Foundation, from the Care Management department, and from the Operations staff. The pantry soon emerged as an opportunity to build effective collaboration around long-term health issues associated with food access. Community Food Lab was instrumental in facilitating a broad coalition of partners, and helping steer the process towards effective in-house ownership.
The UNC REX Food Panty’s ribbon cutting event was covered by several local news stations. Take a look: