Photo courtesy of Food & Friends

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There are stretches of barren blocks in the District, bereft of grocery stores that sell fresh produce and protein. According to the D.C. Policy Center, these areas of limited food access and a lack of close supermarket proximity are concentrated in the neighborhoods of Anacostia, Barry Farms, Mayfair, and Ivy City. More than 75 percent of D.C.’s food deserts are in Wards 7 and 8.

The pregnant women and new mothers who live in these areas, which also have low rates of car access and high rates of poverty, suffer along with their children in a cycle of food insecurity.

A recent partnership between managed care organization AmeriHealth Caritas and local nonprofit Food & Friends is addressing this population’s nutritional needs. Food & Friends, established in 1988, provides nutritious, home-delivered meals to people facing health crises.

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When the nonprofit first launched, it served meals to people suffering from the effects of AIDS who had been ostracized and weren’t receiving care. Later they expanded their coverage to cancer patients and people with poorly managed diabetes. The organization plans to expand even further to provide meals for people with chronic illnesses like Parkinson’s disease and ALS.

Liz Sanders, partnership manager for Food & Friends, says the new partnership ramped up last June, after AmeriHealth reached out to Food & Friends to help feed mothers in its Bright Start maternal health program, in an attempt to reduce the risks of the common afflictions pregnant women in poverty often face, like gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and preeclampsia. Since then, nearly 400 new and expectant District mothers, the majority of whom live in Wards 7 and 8, have received home-delivered meals. 

AmeriHealth Caritas refers mothers to Food & Friends, and as eligibility requirements are met, they can receive nutrition counseling through the program. All of the food is prepared onsite in Food & Friends’ Fort Totten kitchen. The menu is designed by chefs and registered dietitians.

“We have 11 different meal plans that we start with and we can specialize the meal plans based on the needs of our clients,” Sanders says. These meals can be specifically tailored for mothers with diabetes and high blood pressure.

“Intervening during pregnancy is so impactful because you’re not just improving the health of the mother, you’re setting the baby up for future success as well through good nutrition,” Sanders says.

The meals are delivered three times a week, and each of those deliveries has food for women for two days. They often mix frozen and chilled entrees with fresh salads and fruit. The abundance allows other family members and dependents to eat too.

Food & Friends utilizes 50 full-time staff members—drivers, social workers, dietitians, and chefs—to make these home deliveries possible. But anyone can volunteer their time to chop vegetables, portion food, and participate in deliveries. School and church groups can help bag groceries and package meals, joining the nonprofit’s 8,500 annual volunteers.

For pregnant mothers, the program doesn’t end after the baby is born. Food & Friends sticks around to deliver meals for eight weeks after birth, making sure that everybody eats.

In order to participate in the program, women must be AmeriHealth Caritas DC members. Learn more here.