Sharon Tatum says she doesn’t know what she would do without it.
She is one of 10 people participating in the Food is Care program recently launched by St. Peter’s Health and Helena Food Share that brings healthy food to area residents dealing with food insecurity while managing chronic or complex medical conditions.
“If they were not there for me to use I don’t know where I would be today,” the 62-year-old Tatum said Thursday after receiving a box of frozen meat, margarine, eggs, milk, carrots, a yellow pepper, crackers and oatmeal.
She said she receives $20 a month in food stamps “and this helps.”
The Food is Care program connects people with diet-sensitive health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or hypertension to food boxes featuring items to help them manage or improve their health. And it taps into both groups’ skills.
Food items included in the packages are all donated to the Helena Food Share.
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St. Peter’s care team members and other local medical clinics refer homebound patients with complex medical conditions to the free program by assessing their ability to access condition-appropriate food.
Every other week, Helena Food Share, in collaboration with caregivers at St. Peter’s, prepares food boxes for program participants. St. Peter’s population health, ambulance, or community paramedicine team members deliver the packages to participants’ homes.
Tatum receives care from St. Peter’s primary care provider Dr. Mikael Bedell and is one of the program participants.
She has celiac disease and said the providers go to great lengths to ensure that she gets gluten-free items in her boxes, such as cereal and pasta. She also has several other health conditions, including diabetes and heart disease.
Effective management of these health concerns requires a balanced, nutritious, and specialized diet, St. Peter’s officials said.
“There are a lot of times that I wouldn’t have food at all if they didn’t come to deliver it to me,” Tatum said. “It is a great service.”
Helena Food Share Program Operations Director Kim Dale said the partnership with St. Peter’s helps ensure existing programs are sustainable.
“We are excited and hope to grow this program to reach more vulnerable people in our community who are struggling with access to food while managing complex medical conditions,” Dale said Wednesday in a news release. “It’s clear that we’re stronger together when we partner to serve real needs in our community.”
St. Peter’s Primary Care Physician Dr. David Krainacker has over 50 hours of training in the field of culinary medicine.
“Food is a powerful tool for everybody, especially individuals with chronic health conditions,” said Krainacker. “Consistent access to nutritious food, the medical care they need and guidance on how to live a healthier lifestyle creates the perfect recipe to manage complex health conditions.”
St. Peter’s Clinical Care Manager Catie Cloninger, a registered nurse, works with Tatum to coordinate her treatment plans and continually assesses her access to appropriate food.
“We provide low-sodium options to address her other health concerns, focusing on meats like chicken or fish, not salty ham or other meat products,” Cloninger said.
Tatum said she hopes the pilot program continues so that “other people who need the program can get help too.”
Since 2019, St. Peter’s has partnered with Helena Food Share to grow their Healthy Food Initiative, stocking the pantry shelves and coolers with a wider variety and more consistent offering of fresh, locally-grown produce, lean meats and healthy grains.
Just recently, the two organizations were also awarded the Food Farmacy Blood Pressure/Cholesterol Grant through the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services Cardiovascular Health Program.
Money from this grant will focus on the creation of education materials along with food preparation tips, sample recipes and cooking tips/demonstrations that can be used in the Food is Care program and beyond.
Assistant editor Phil Drake contributed to this story. He is at [email protected] or 406-231-9021.