St. Christopher's Foundation for Children and St. Christopher's Hospital Launch FreshRXApril 26, 2012
Docs write prescriptions for fresh food.
Across the country, pediatric physicians are feverishly writing prescriptions for medications to combat the adverse effects of poor nutrition. At St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, thanks to a new collaboration with St. Christopher’s Foundation for Children dubbed FreshRX, a group of forward-thinking doctors are handing out a new type of prescription – one for apples, carrots, broccoli and a whole host of farm-fresh foods.
“We see young patients everyday who are undernourished and underweight or, at the opposite extreme, overweight and obese. Growing numbers of children are exhibiting iron deficiency, anemia, and type 2 diabetes. Serious cognitive effects also accompany poor nutritional habits, from shortened attention span to irritability, fatigue, and difficulty with concentration,” said Dan Taylor, DO, one of the first adopters of the FreshRX model at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, along with colleague Hans Kersten, MD. “Fresh food is a wellness-critical resource that, if introduced early, can help correct certain ills and chart a path for a healthy future.”
A pilot program in its early stages, FreshRX is an extension of a successful Farm to Families food share system launched in summer 2010 by nonprofit St. Christopher’s Foundation for Children, to make healthy, farm-fresh food available and affordable in North Philadelphia, year-round. Now, in an unprecedented show of support for nutritious eating, St. Chris physicians are writing prescriptions for weekly Farm to Families fresh food boxes, for children seen through their Center for Child and Adolescent Health, GROW Clinic, and Healthy Lifestyles Program.
“North Philadelphia is at the apex of this country’s food crisis. Not only is it one of the nation’s hungriest neighborhoods, but it’s also among the 10 poorest, and poorer than any other in Pennsylvania. And the unfortunate dichotomy is that a staggering 70 percent of children here are overweight or obese, due in part to their lack of access to healthy food options,” said Jan Shaeffer, executive director of St. Christopher’s Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to support the health and well-being of children in North Philadelphia. “Our FreshRX partners at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children are helping us make a vital step toward total health integration, directly connecting food and nutrition to medical care.”
The FreshRX pilot is founded on a relationship with the physician, and accessibility to fresh food. Carolyn Jackson, CEO, St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, explains: “First, our physicians write prescriptions for fresh food in the same manner they would for medicine. Then, the children and families are directed to an affordable, year-round food share program with outposts here at the hospital, and in their neighborhood.”
With prescription in hand, families pick up their Farm to Families fresh food boxes weekly from St. Christopher’s Hospital or any of four other public distribution sites in their North Philadelphia neighborhood, strategically positioned in low food access areas:
In addition, private partnerships with Girard College and the 11th Street Family Health Center, run by Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professionals, make Farm to Families available to students and patients, respectively.
In total, some 750 North Philadelphia families have participated in Farm to Families, either through FreshRX, as recommended by a community organization, or on their own. To date, approximately 35 tons of fresh food has been delivered to North Philadelphia via the program.
Weekly food shares are sold at near wholesale cost and are available in $10 and $15 boxes, brimming with fresh fruits and vegetables, from apples and blueberries and cantaloupe, to romaine lettuce, tomatoes, white potatoes, carrots, ears of corn, string beans, zucchini and cucumbers, in season. Farm-fresh eggs, meat, poultry and seafood can be purchased at an additional, but still affordable, cost.
On their first visit, FreshRX patients can redeem a voucher for $5 off one $10 or $15 box, underwritten by St. Christopher’s Foundation corporate partner Shire Pharmaceuticals. SNAP benefits [formerly called food stamps] and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program coupons are accepted, in addition to cash, credit and debit card payment options. A loyalty program, also underwritten by Shire Pharmaceuticals, makes the 10th box free of purchase.
“This is awesome for the community. I don’t make a lot of money… and this program definitely helps people out who can’t afford to eat the right foods,” said Farm to Families participant Toby Altman.
In addition to fresh, healthy food, FreshRX patients and other Farm to Families participants receive food and nutrition education at the food distribution sites. Subsidized by St. Christopher’s Foundation for Children, instruction includes on-site cooking demonstrations and taste tests, aligned with the weekly boxes and tailored to various cultural backgrounds, as well as educational handouts on topics ranging from food storage to nutritional values.
Donna Griffin, who frequents the Norris Square Farm to Families site, said the program has motivated her to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into her family’s diet. “Everything seems fresher than the grocery store, and is amazingly flavorful. It’s been fun to think of new recipes that use all of the veggies in our weekly box,” she said.
For more information on FreshRX and Farm to Families, go to http://www.scfchildren.org/.
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