The Empire BlueCross BlueShield Foundation partnered with the Food Bank for New York City to announce their new program, “Food as Medicine,” last Tuesday in Sunset Park.
The Foundation presented the Food Bank with a grant for $450,000 as part of the $2.2 million state-wide program.
This three-year grant will fund the Food Bank’s work with Public Health Solutions, a local nonprofit with a vision for “health equity,” identifying people in need at their physician visits, explained Dr. Mark Levy, president of Empire BlueCross BlueShield New York.
“Food Bank for New York City’s partnership with Empire BlueCross BlueShield will help us further our mission of ending hunger in our city,” said Leslie Gordon, president and chief executive officer of Food Bank for New York City.
“Thanks to this very generous $450,000 grant,” Gordon continued, “we will be able to expand our reach to New York City’s most vulnerable residents.”
“We’ll be marrying the healthcare system with the social care system, which is really at the foundation of what we’re trying to do,” said Dr. Levy.
Dr. Levy described the bulk of the three-year program as “working in conjunction with the healthcare system to connect people to culturally appropriate fresh produce.”
“It’s important for us to not only make those connections and create the opportunities for the connections of social and medical care,” continued Dr. Levy, “but also to prove that it works.”
“A big part of what Public Health Solutions is doing with us will be tracking individuals and working with individuals over time to demonstrate the health benefits of receiving regular, good produce,” noted Dr. Levy.
To kick off the program, local politicians and volunteers lined up outside of Empire BlueCross BlueShield’s Brooklyn Community Service Center handing out blue tote bags filled with produce to the hundreds who waited in a line that circled the block.
“The need is just overwhelming,” noted Dr. Levy. “People have been patiently waiting for a couple of hours; people are really grateful.”
“It was a long wait, but it was worth it,” said Marcia Vinancaca, a local who first stopped at the bank next door before joining the line.
“Generous, cross-organizational collaborations and grant-giving like the one between Food Bank for NYC and Empire BlueCross BlueShield Foundation are essential to providing creative services to help vulnerable New Yorkers meet basic needs like food and nutrition access in a coordinated fashion,” said Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso.
In total, the Food Bank gave out 250 bags of produce.
“We’ll be doing this monthly at one of our community service centers here in Brooklyn and in Queens,” said Dr. Levy.