Dec 23, 2022 - Health

Teaming up for holiday hunger relief

Illustration of a hands holding a fork and knife next to an empty plate sitting on an American dollar

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A nonprofit is teaming up with health care providers, insurance companies and community-based organizations to give food-insecure U.S. households a reprieve this holiday season.

Driving the news: The nonprofit About Fresh is offering financial relief to thousands of Americans in need through a prepaid debit card program — a new safety net as higher food costs and extreme winter weather conditions exacerbate a nationwide hunger crisis.

The big picture: Food is a critical expense during the holidays, according to Josh Trautwein, CEO and c0-founder of About Fresh.

  • "We think a lot about the erosion of culture and heritage that results from food insecurity. And we feel that the most acutely during the holidays,” says Trautwein.
  • "You're not doing family dinners, you're definitely not doing cookouts, you're definitely not having dinners with neighbors, you're probably not having people over for the holidays if you're food insecure, because you can't afford it.”

How it works: In 2018, About Fresh launched Fresh Connect, a produce prescription program that provides a stipend through a prepaid debit card for participants to purchase fresh food items at local grocery stores.

  • As of late, 3,250 people across Massachusetts, Oregon, West Virginia and D.C. are enrolled in Fresh Connect, while over $200,000 in transactions are authorized per month.
  • The program's health care, insurance and community-based partners determine who is eligible and how much they will be allocated monthly — typically between $50 to $200 per cardholder, organizers say.
  • Among those partners is Boston Medical Center, which has been conducting a USDA NIFA-funded study of Fresh Connect's effectiveness in addressing food insecurity among low-income families with young children during the pandemic.

Yes, but: In order to be enrolled, a person needs to go through a participating organization partnered with the program, like a health care provider.

  • About 26 million Americans, or 8% of the country, didn't have health insurance as of the first quarter of 2022, per an HHS report.

What they're saying: "Our health care system has been primarily oriented towards taking care of people only after they're sick," says Trautwein. "Everything that we are trying to do is to keep people from not getting sick by making sure that they have access to healthy food."

Zoom out: Food banks, a major resource for those who are food insecure, typically experience an increase in demand during the holidays.

The bottom line: "Our ability to increase healthy food purchasing power for the community of households we serve who are experiencing food insecurity has a cascading economic impact on the ability to afford the rest of the holidays,” Trautwein tells Axios.

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