Improving Access to Healthy Food

woman in a blue dress standing in a large, green field

Deidre Dority, Let’s Go! Coordinator and food insecurity champion at PBMC and WCGH, stands among the crops at Erickson Fields Preserve farm in Rockport. The Erickson farm supplies the vegetables that are distributed at PBMC as part of the Mainers Feeding Mainers program.

Food insecurity, or the condition of not having access to sufficient nutritious food to meet one’s basic needs, is a known health concern throughout Maine. Food insecurity:

  • Makes a person more likely to develop a chronic disease
  • Makes it harder to manage disease which can lead to hospitalization

In FY2022 Pen Bay Medical Center (PBMC) and Waldo County General Hospital (WCGH) expanded their food insecurity programs by introducing food pantries within three practices:

  • Beebe Health Center: 15 Anchor Drive in Rockport on the PBMC campus
  • PBMC walk-in care: 22 White Street in Rockland
  • WCGH primary & walk-in care: Biscone Medical Building at 119 Northport Avenue in Belfast

Grant funding from Good Shepard Food Bank helped the hospitals set up a “Help Yourself Shelf” at each location and purchase necessary equipment and food. The food shelves were set up in April. Since then, the shelves have provided food for more than 400 households, representing more than 1,100 individuals (patients self-report this information when they pick up food from the shelves).

“Our community health needs assessment process identified social determinants of health, like access to food and transportation, as key issues in our communities,” said Deidre Dority, Let’s Go! coordinator for PBMC and WCGH and the champion for our local food security initiatives. “Addressing food insecurity is an important part of addressing the health needs of our community. And offering resources where people have already traveled to get to an appointment creates a low-barrier option that allows patients to choose foods that work for their families.”

In December, the hospitals announced partnerships with the Belfast Soup Kitchen in Waldo County and Area Interfaith Outreach (AIO) in Knox County that will keep the Help Yourself Shelves stocked with non-perishable items and allow the programs to expand into other practices.

“This gives us another access point into the community,” said Cherie Merrill, executive director of the Belfast Soup Kitchen.

“Making connections with other organizations that are doing this work strengthens our community,” said Jemma Penberthy, director of community health at PBMC and WCGH. “It really is an example of how we’re working together to improve the health of our community.”

Mainers Feeding Mainers

The addition of food pantry shelving built upon the momentum of the Mainers Feeding Mainers initiative that has brought fresh produce from local farms to hospital campuses for the past two summers. In 2021, the program brought 7,070 pounds of vegetables to our campuses. This year, that number increased to 9,500 pounds.