Filling the Food Gap: A New Einstein Student Initiative
This holiday season, Einstein’s newest Community Based Service Learning program, Food Justice and Medicine (FJAM), is spearheading a virtual food drive for the New York Common Pantry (NYCP). The informal effort seeks to thank NYCP, which has been the main source of food donations for a student-run grocery delivery project that has supplied food throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to those in need, including Bronx patients from Montefiore’s Family Health Center and the ECHO (Einstein Community Health Outreach) Free Clinic.
“Systemic barriers in our food system adversely affect our patients’ long-term health, and issues of food access have been exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic,” said Michael (Mike) Yang, a second-year medical student and program co-leader. FJAM aims to engage the student body by offering volunteer opportunities and developing both small-scale (clinic-based) and larger scale policy interventions that fight food insecurity.
Connecting Food with People
The initiative started as a COVID-19 volunteer project organized by two fourth-year students (now in their research year), Nicole Turturro and Thammatat (Juwee) Vorawandthanachai. “Since the height of the pandemic, the project has made 545 deliveries of groceries to a total of 170 different patients and familie,” said FJAM co-leader Kathryn (Katy) Segal, also a second-year student. "Students from throughout the Einstein community have volunteered in various ways to make the program a success.That includes many student volunteers from the ECHO Free Clinic, coordinated by second-year medical student, Julia Holber."
Mike and Katy approached Heather Archer-Dyer, assistant professor of family and social medicine, about adding a food justice-oriented student organization into Einstein’s Community Based Service Learning program, which Heather leads along with directing the department of family and social medicine’s community health outreach. “I was excited by the prospect because the project offers all four types of service learning that we hope to provide—advocacy, research, indirect service, and direct service,” she said. “Organizing FJAM within the CBSL also expands what Nicole and Juwee began, filling an important gap.”
Mike and Katy have also sought input from food-inequity experts and organizations across Einstein and Montefiore. That includes approaching Elizabeth Spurrell-Huss, director of community education in Montefiore’s office of community and population health, whose office is leading several initiatives targeting food insecurity within the Bronx vicinity, and Dr. Andrew Telzak, an Einstein alum and family medicine doctor at the Family Health Center, who is currently completing a population health fellowship at Montefiore, will be the faculty adviser for the student organization.
Mike also attended a recent panel discussion on food inequity in the Bronx, offered by Dr. Oladimeji Oki as part of his newly developed course for first-year medical students called "Health Systems Sciences and Health Equity". The students in FJAM hope to collaborate with Dr. Oki regarding objectives they've set for their program.
Fixing the System
Mike and Katy stress that filling the gap in food access is medically important because it helps prevent diet-related diseases. And in typical Einstein fashion, they are looking to make a difference in this important social determinant of health. “We want to live and practice medicine in a society where every human being, regardless of where they live or what their background is, has access to nutritious and life-sustaining food,” said Mike.
To aid access, they’re exploring a variety of measures for improving the food system, including veggie prescriptions, farm stands outside of clinics, NYC Health Bucks, and larger-scale policy changes, like increasing land ownership for Black farmers. And, to help meet social needs locally, they plan to identify patients in additional care settings, link with more Montefiore Community Health Worker networks, and look for ways to continue their delivery efforts, such as with “Project Bravo,” Montefiore’s own food pantry.
Giving to NYCP
To contribute to the NYCP Food Drive, visit their website on Amazon Smile by December 31, 2020. When checking out, include NYCP’s primary location—8 East 109th Street, NYC—and a note saying your donation is on behalf of the Einstein community. “We want NYCP to know that our community is supporting them as they’ve supported our patients during this difficult time,” explained Katy.
If you’ve got questions? Email Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org or Katy at email@example.com.
Posted on: Wednesday, December 23, 2020