DePaul Community Health Centers in New Orleans offers patients who screen positive for food insecurity an opportunity to select 20 food items a month that will be boxed and ready for pickup.
The order-ahead program began in March 2021. The program is run in partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank. Patients make their choices from several categories and place their orders through a smartphone app, getting assistance if they need it from DePaul community health workers.
The items they select are packaged at Second Harvest and brought to DePaul for pickup on the fourth Friday of the month.
The food program is among many that Stephenie Marshall oversees as executive director at the health centers' parent, Ascension DePaul Services. She says the program is part of a constellation that DePaul, a federally qualified health center, operates to address social needs that affect the health of the largely low-income, minority population it serves. "I think DePaul is considered as a beacon of light of the community," she says.
Working with Second Harvest, DePaul also offers a food giveaway the second Friday of every month that is open to anyone. That distribution of food boxes includes fresh meats and produce, but the hundreds of people who stop by for the boxes don't get a choice on what they take home.
The order-ahead program is much smaller. It had been averaging about 35 participants a month. This spring, after some new food options were added, enrollment was up to 66.
Margaret Brocks was among those who were taking part in the program over the summer. She says she shares her box of food with her sister. "It supplements us greatly," Brocks says. "When we fall short, we always know that we have that we can depend on."
Brocks says her choices always include fresh produce, something she can't always afford. She adds that she would recommend the program "to anybody and everybody that qualifies."
Lindsay Hendrix, Second Harvest's chief impact officer, says the food bank has hundreds of partners who help it distribute
48 million pounds of food a year in 23 parishes, or counties, across the Gulf Coast of Louisiana. It only offers the order-ahead program through DePaul.
Hendrix says the program is challenging for Second Harvest because it requires an operation that usually provides food in bulk to put together custom orders. "It's been a learning curve for us as a food bank," she says.
Nevertheless, given the program's success at DePaul, she says Second Harvest hopes to figure out how to expand it to other partners.