By Bryan Roth, Duke Health
If a kitchen can be the center of community in a home, it’s fitting that the Duke Outpatient Clinic is filling that role for Durham residents through its Fresh Produce Program.
For almost two years, staff, providers and medical students have helped food-insecure patients find needed comfort by filling their fridges and pantries. Each month, the program hands out North Carolina-grown fruits and vegetables donated from local businesses at the clinic. It’s part of Duke’s goal to help and support the Durham community, which has also included a 10-year relationship with Project Access of Durham County.
Since August 2017, about 220 patients have received almost 630 bags of produce with potatoes, collards, apples and more. Results have been transformative. Surveys of participants showed that 70% ate more vegetables, 76% felt healthier and 90% cooked more because of the program.
“On our distribution days, there is so much happiness with activity, sounds of laughter and people hanging out with each other,” said Jan Dillard, LCSW, a clinical social worker at the clinic and volunteer with the program. “Our clinic is not just about the doctoring, but also fostering relationships with patients so we can better provide for all their needs.”
Patients are referred to the Fresh Produce Program by their providers based on dietary needs. For example, it’s a way for pre-diabetic or diabetic patients to ensure they have healthy foods.
“Food is something that brings people together, and you can feel patients’ excitement when we all get together,” said Christelle Tan, a medical student who organizes the distribution effort. “This is an important way we can address the total health of patients and impact all of their health outcomes.”