Empowering Food Access Grants Feed Communities

While many communities are challenged by food insecurity, every community’s needs are different. By taking the time to understand the food challenges facing a specific population, we can work with organizations to come up with ways to address them. When we do this over and over again across different cities and states, we can get food into the homes of those who need it and improve health outcomes.

Empowering Health is UnitedHealthcare's commitment to addressing social determinants of health (SDOH) and expanding access to care for underserved populations. In 2020, roughly half of our program was dedicated to addressing food insecurity and improving nutrition in underserved communities. Much of this was in response to the exacerbation of food insecurity in our country as result of COVID-19. Our 50 food-related grants went to food banks and community-based organizations (CBOs) across the nation, including the YMCA, Boys and Girls Club and Meals on Wheels. Funding also went to hospital systems and federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), where the grant money has been used to make produce and healthy foods more accessible to patients before they leave the care facility.

Using community-based approaches to feed populations

UHC Empowering Health grants focus on options that meet specific needs within a community. Originally, we concentrated on funding refrigeration infrastructure at food banks to improve access to fresh foods, and we have since expanded our approach. To date, we have invested in mobile food pantries, healthy food pantries, home-delivered meals, medically-tailored food boxes, cooking classes and emergency food provisions. We are also involved in making sure culturally-appropriate foods are available to community members and work to connect grantees to resources such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Healthy foods are a vital need for the people we serve. Introducing options like food prescriptions allows providers to write a prescription to their patients, who can then bring the Rx to grocery stores and get healthy foods at a discounted cost. For every grant, we work directly with the grantee to find a tailored solution that will improve access to healthy foods for the people they serve.

Partner Spotlight: Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina (FBCENC)

With UnitedHealthcare funding, FBCENC was able to expand their “Food as Medicine” program by purchasing a mobile nutrition vehicle to distribute healthy food boxes to several agency partners and childcare facilities serving children living in low-wealth areas. The food boxes contained fresh produce and culturally-appropriate nutrition education materials. Since July 2020, FBCENC has reached nearly 7,000 individuals and distributed more than 28,000 pounds of fresh produce through this program expansion.

Supporting long-term organizational goals

We believe in the long-term impact of our grantees. Because these organizations connect directly with underserved communities, we know how important it is to take the time to understand their mission and future goals for the next few years. From there, we can plug into the strategy of the community-based organization, FQHC or local city health department and offer targeted support to get them where they want to go.

For example, when COVID-19 hit, many food banks and other grantees shifted their approach in order to continue offering safe access to food. While our funds generally go toward providing fresh foods, we worked with these organizations to distribute food with a longer shelf life so that they could offer emergency food boxes for curbside pickup. Through our close partnerships, we have been able to work toward the greater good of a community and help local organizations evolve their programs in ways that may have not been possible otherwise.

There is no one solution to food insecurity, so we approach the issue from many directions. No matter what, we have found that our work is most effective when working directly with the organizations who are already dedicated to providing food within their community. We will continue to utilize these partnerships to address SDOH and help those in underserved communities live healthier lives.

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