Approximately 1.2 million New Yorkers are food insecure – that is, lacking reliable access to affordable and healthy food. In fact, food insecurity is one of the biggest health crises facing underserved communities.

Now, patients at hospitals in Manhattan and Brooklyn are getting a crash course on this important issue, while also learning how to cure hunger locally.

OneCity Health, the NYC Health + Hospitals Performing Provider System under New York State’s Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment (DSRIP) program, recently launched two new programs–The Food and Nutrition Service Networks and Housing Navigation Network– that will make it easier for underserved residents to connect to available services they most likely didn’t even know existed, such as such as Safe Haven beds, food pantries and eviction prevention services for those facing housing insecurities.

In Brooklyn, RiseBoro, a Bushwick-based organization, is among three neighborhood development organizations across the five boroughs, awarded part of a $4.3 million grant to mobilize, through the Food and Nutrition Service Networks, a year-long outreach and referral campaign with patients while their waiting to be seen at Woodhull Hospital in Bed-Stuy.

Chris Leto, Director of Outreach and Special Projects at RiseBoro, believes the referral service is a resource every healthcare system should have:

So many people go to bed hungry, because they don’t have food,” said Leto. “While patients are waiting for the doctors, we speak to them about cooking classes we offer, how to apply for SNAP benefits; or how to go about getting Meals on Wheels.”

Cooking class hosted by RiseBoro Photo: RiseBoro.org

RiseBoro will work with a network of partners, including Public Health Solutions, Bed-Stuy Restoration Corporation, St. Johns Bread and Life, the NY Academy of Medicine and LISC New York City, providing an A to Z list of referrals agencies focused on addressing a variety of food insecurity needs. 

A lot of people don’t know that they can contact meals on wheels or there’s a place they can go to for dinner, if they’re a senior,” said Leto. The bilingual service makes face-to-face referrals to all the programs residents probably never even knew existed.

Since 1973, RiseBoro has offered cross-generational services designed to meet the needs of underserved communities. For decades now, they’ve been delivering up to 100 meals a year we deliver. They work with 75 farmshares whose fresh produce they subsidize to offer the community at a heavily discounted cost. They also work with nine senior centers where they regularly provide nutritious breakfasts and lunches.

So when the opportunity opened with OneCity Health to address the problem of food insecurity, the agency wrote a white paper and presented it “to really get to the nuts and bolts of some of the issues they were trying to address,” said Leto. “So it seemed very natural to go for this grant to work with the hospital.”

After just one week at Woodhull Hospital, 120 individuals met with the Food Navigator and were linked to critical services. This exceeded RiseBoro’s expectation of 25-30 people per week.

But Leto’s quick to point out that it couldn’t work as well as it does without the neighborhood network of partners. Together they work as an army in Brooklyn, fighting the war on hunger. 

“If you don’t solve the issue of food insecurity, you’ll have a difficult time working on the other issues,” Leto said. 

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