Doctor's office opens food pantry for patients

Staff discovers up to half of patients are 'food insecure'

YPSILANTI, Mich. – Staff members at the University of Michigan's Ypsilanti Health Center are going the extra mile to help their patients, after discovering many needed more than medicine.

"We realized a lot of our patients were struggling to meet their health goals and took a few steps back and realized that they weren't able to meet their basic needs, and one of those biggest needs was food," said registered dietitian April Pickrel.

They conducted a survey of their patients and were surprised by the scope of the problem.

"Between 40 and 50 percent of our patients are facing food insecurity," Pickrel said. "When you're asking a patient to try and be careful about their salt intake, you can't do that when they just can't eat or when they can't control where they get their food."

A team of staff set out to secure funding for a food pantry, found space to house it in a supply closet and underwent training in food safety.

They partnered with Food Gatherers.

"They're a food bank, and they provide food operation to local food pantries all over the area, so they're one of our biggest sources," Pickrel said.

They've also received support from the Mott Annual Fund and the Friends Gift Shop.

Maggie's Marketplace opened May 1. It is named for center's former medical director Dr. Maggie Riley, who championed the project.

In the first month, the food pantry gave food to more than 700 patients and their family members.

The reaction from patients?

"Shock and awe is usually the first thing. They step back as soon as they walk in the door, and the beautiful food that they see usually just takes them aback. They can't imagine that their doctor, doctor's office is providing them with the food they need so much," said pediatric medical assistant Spring Stonebraker. "Often, the parents are like kids in a candy store. They can't decide how many of what to pick, because it's so exciting that they finally are able to have what they haven't had in a long time."

Staff identifies patients in need using a simple two question survey -- available in multiple languages.

They also provide families with a list of other local food resources. The food pantry is not limited to patients. They also give out food to members of the community.

The project is having a positive impact on everyone involved.

"We have parents cry, kids cry. 'Can I take this? Can I take that? Are you sure I don't owe you something?' Lots of hugs. It's really nice," Stonebraker said.