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United Way Blog

Food Pharmacies: Trident United Way’s Innovative Approach to Health

The most significant factors influencing your health might exist beyond the confines of a doctor's office. As the idea that food is medicine gains popularity, clinicians are recommending food-based interventions to help prevent, manage, and treat chronic diet-related diseases. However, not everyone enjoys equal access to medical practitioners or wholesome foods. In response, Trident United Way (TUW) and its partners are making healthy living accessible for everyone through an innovative strategy designed to tackle barriers to food access as a core part of United Way’s larger mission.

TUW's food pharmacy partnerships embrace the concept of food-as-medicine and acknowledge the profound impact of dietary choices on overall health and wellness outcomes. As a member of South Carolina's Statewide Food Policy Council, TUW analyzes regional food systems and enhances practices that support the food-as-medicine philosophy. Their efforts are strengthened by partnerships with local organizations like the Lowcountry Food Bank, which serves approximately ten counties and offers invaluable support to our initiatives.

One integral element of their strategy is the implementation of food pharmacies within health clinics, such as the St. James Health and Wellness Clinic and the Elijah Wright Family Health Center. Upon visiting these clinics for well-checks or other medical issues, individuals are screened for food insecurity and other social determinants of health. Those identified as needing extra support (50-60% at these locations) are then given access to fresh fruits, meats, and dairy from on-site food pharmacies at the clinics. This initiative is a boon to communities located in food deserts, like the town of McClellanville, SC. According to Brenda Perkins, Community Health Worker at St. James Health and Wellness Clinic, “We saw the need in the community. In the McClellanville area, there is not a grocery store. There is only a Dollar General. They don't have a Farmer's Market here. There's not a (food) pantry that's open. The only thing they have locally is what we have here."

Food pharmacies are a necessary intervention. South Carolina had the 6th highest percentage of the adult population with diabetes in the United States in 2022, and heart disease accounted for more than 75,000 hospitalizations at a total hospitalization cost of $6.8 billion. It's worse in communities on the outskirts of larger cities like Charleston and Mt. Pleasant that have traditionally been underserved and under-resourced. Very often, by the time someone visits a clinic for treatment, their only choice is to trade the burden of physical suffering for a financial one. TUW's food pharmacy partnerships empower residents to choose. The St. James Health and Wellness Clinic currently serves more than 100 individuals monthly. This figure is significant as it represents almost 20% of the McClellanville population.

TUW's efforts to provide behavioral and dietary approaches to chronic disease prevention align with United Way's global commitment to health and financial stability. By giving people access to healthier food, they not only improve their health but also save them from the burden of expensive medications. Building the capacity of clinical partners to measure and address food insecurity in the community is just one of many ways Trident United Way acts as an agent for systems level change in the counties they serve.

If you want to help give others the opportunity to thrive, connect with your local United Way to find out how to get involved.