This Minnesota Food Bank Provides Prescriptions for Health

Good food can be powerful medicine for body and soul.

Need to fill a prescription? For FOODRx participants, that doesn’t always mean stopping at the pharmacy.

This partnership between Second Harvest Heartland and its network of healthcare providers works to fill “prescriptions” for boxes of nutritious food for more than 3,000 people in need in Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

How FOODRx Works

FOODRx is designed for individuals with chronic diseases who struggle to put food on the table, explains Alexandra De Kesel Lofthus of Second Harvest Heartland.

Once a month, participants in the program receive boxes filled with 25 to 30 pounds of shelf-stable food, easy recipes and educational materials related to their condition. FOODRx assembles six different boxes tailored to the tastes of its participants including traditional American, Hispanic and Somali cuisine.

How Food Contributes to Health

“A person’s nutritional status is a critical part of their health,” says Dr. Kacey Justesen, a family practice physician. But, she says, doctors don’t necessarily know how to help patients facing food insecurity. Now, when she and other healthcare providers make referrals to FOODRx, patients see the food not as a handout but as an important part of their care plans.

For one program participant, it has been a life-changing experience. Dr. Diana Cutts, a physician studying the FOODRx program, says a patient told researchers she believed her unstable housing situation was causing a lack of sleep, affecting her physical and mental health. The patient has diabetes and high blood pressure, and her health had been declining.

With FOODRx, the patient is learning how to choose and prepare lean meats and whole grains—and is saving money on groceries. She now believes she’ll be able to find better housing and improve her health.

“She felt the FOODRx boxes gave her a sense of hope,” Dr. Cutts says. She likes the low-salt recipes and says receiving the boxes reduced her general level of stress, which helped her blood pressure stabilize.

Another FOODRx participant put it this way in a note sent to Second Harvest Heartland: “Thank you for the financial and health boost each month. It really helps!”

Food banks are doing what they can to fight hunger in the face of the pandemic, but they need help. Want to know what you can do? Visit feedingamerica.org/covid19 to learn more about Feeding America’s pandemic response, and find a food bank near you.

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