Welcome to our new community-focused blog series, called “Keep Us.” Each month, we will focus on a new theme aimed at our collective effort and impact to keep us all connected to care and living our best lives with health, security, and dignity.
During the month of March, we are focusing on building healthier communities by bridging the gap in access to healthy food.
Over the past two years, our team has witnessed food assistance organizations across the country pivot creatively in response to the rapidly increasing needs of our community members. Feeding America estimates that in 2020, one in eight Americans were food insecure—over 38 million people. Many people experiencing food insecurity are also facing a variety of other challenges beyond the need for food. Inevitably, every community-based organization has experienced first-hand how food insecurity is often accompanied by other social needs, such as the need for adequate housing or employment.
So how do organizations that do not offer food assistance—including legal services providers, educational institutions, and benefits navigators—contribute to increasing food access? Community-based organizations across the country have been taking an active role in directly connecting their clients to food assistance via participation in the Unite Us network.
Collaborate with Community Partners Through a Coordinated Care Network
We believe there should be no wrong door for people seeking services. Addressing food security in collaboration with other local organizations is critical for increasing access to healthy food on a community level.As more needs are met through enhanced access and support, more individuals are able to pursue their full potential with dignity, and community well-being is strengthened. Since 2020, Unite Us networks have helped reduce the average time to referral acceptance by nearly two days. In 2021, 75% of all food assistance referrals were accepted in four days or less, helping individuals receive quicker access to food.
Unite Us facilitates connections to services beyond food including housing assistance, income support, and family services. If your organization doesn't provide food assistance, you can easily refer your clients who need food security assistance to a CBO that does. If you are a CBO helping people achieve food security, reaching out through the Unite Us Platform lets other CBOs in your community know you’re a local resource for their clients.
The Unite Us partnership with Bento, a care coordination platform that delivers healthy meals from restaurants and grocery stores to families in need via text, is just one example of how participating in a coordinated care platform amplifies CBOs’ impact to help individuals achieve their full potential.
“This partnership with Unite Us is exciting because together, we’ll be able to more effectively identify those at risk of food insecurity and get out ahead of this issue on a larger scale in the United States. We believe that addressing someone’s most basic human need for nutritious food in a convenient and dignified way is the first step towards improving people’s quality of life and driving better healthcare outcomes.”
–Adam Dole, COO of Bento
Partnerships like these are the key to ensuring that no one slips through the cracks. Whether it’s having other organizations refer to you on SNAP/WIC enrollment, or sending referrals to your local healthcare provider’s food prescription program, you can ensure an individual’s food needs are being met.
Build Healthier Communitiesby Expanding Resources for Health and Social Care
Food insecurity doesn’t exist in isolation but rather is a multi-faceted issue with a number of root causes. According to Unite Us Platform data, the three most common co-occurring needs are housing, income support, and individual and family support.
Whether food insecurity is the cause or effect, communities need tools that account for the complexity of food security and provide solutions that address individuals' intertwined social needs. Unite Us facilitates care coordination by making it easy for your organization to make efficient referrals for clients to other organizations. On the Unite Us Platform, you can follow your clients’ journeys as they receive care from outside agencies in the network, to see how their co-occurring needs are being met.
Increase Healthy Food Accesswith Local and National Resources
There are many resources available on a local and national level to help increase healthy food access in your community. Here are a few tips:
Help clients receive emergency food through the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP)
Connect children with free meals at school through the child nutrition programs (CACFP/SFSP)
Facilitate the transfer of local food to local families in need by becoming a drop-off site for local garden surplus
Coordinate with local grocers and food waste organizations to collect food items before surplus goes to waste
Collaborate with local farmer markets to offer subsidized fresh produce to clients
Want to help others learn more about the services your organization can provide? Interested in connecting to other CBOs to see all your clients' service needs addressed? Join a network and start receiving referrals from all kinds of organizations in your community—including hospitals, shelters, churches, schools, and even your local salon.
Together, we can increase access to healthy food and build healthier communities.