The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that one in eight Americans are food insecure. A new food pantry at ECU's Brody School of Medicine aims to improve the health of patients in the region who lack access to adequate amounts of healthy food. 

The pantry -- a collaboration between Vidant Medical Center, Brody faculty and students, and the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina -- will provide emergency food boxes to patients who have been identified as having food insecurity. Organizers hope to help these patients with their recovery by providing nutritious food recommended by their health care teams based on their medical conditions. The pantry will initially provide food to patients being discharged from the hospital, but the program is expected to expand to include patients visiting ECU Physicians. 

"I was seeing that our patients with dietary restrictions due to diabetes or hypertension were struggling to make healthful food choices because they lacked access to adequate amounts of healthy food, and that was leading to less than desirable outcomes," said Kay Craven, director of nutrition services at ECU Physicians and one of the project's organizers. 

When Craven partnered with professor emeritus Dr. Kathryn Kolasa to educate resident physicians about the importance of nutrition in patient care, it didn't take long for them to realize that referring patients to local food pantries wasn't enough. 

"A typical food pantry is going to have a lot of food that is less healthy and less healing than what we're going to do," said Kolasa. "If you go into the food bank that's downtown you're going to get whatever people or companies wanted to donate. They could have stacks of candy bars or potato chips. They don't think about the fact that some of these people are sick and have different needs." 

Organizers say one of the most important aspects of the new food pantry is its location off Moye Boulevard, between the Leo Jenkins Cancer Center and Vidant Medical Center. 

"One of the main things we talked about at the beginning of this project, in terms of the patients, is that many of them are on Medicaid," said third-year medical student Shannon Osborn. "Medicaid will pay for transportation to medical appointments, but it's not going to pay for transportation to a grocery store or food pantry. So if we can put a food pantry in an area where there's a high volume of people who are food insecure with the provided transportation to their medical needs, there's a higher chance for success." 
 

  Dr. Susan Keen collects and weighs food for the food pantry at ECU’s Brody School of Medicine with M3 students Shazeb Khan and Shannon Osborne.

Dr. Susan Keen collects and weighs food for the food pantry at ECU’s Brody School of Medicine with M3 students Shazeb Khan and Shannon Osborne.

"Medicaid will pay for transportation to medical appointments, but it's not going to pay for transportation to a grocery store or food pantry. So if we can put a food pantry in an area where there's a high volume of people who are food insecure with the provided transportation to their medical needs, there's a higher chance for success."