Two local organizations team up to better handle food insecurity

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Donna Ambrose (center) shows off Caritas Community Resource Center's food pantry to medical professionals from Beloit Area Community Health Center Friday. The two organizations will partner to address food insecurity in Beloit.

BELOIT — Two local community resources will be joining forces in 2017 to ensure that families in need of food are directed to the right resources.

Beloit Area Community Health Center and Caritas Community Resource Center will be utilizing a tool developed by HungerCare Coalition to screen for and more effectively handle food insecurity.

HungerCare Coalition, a program of Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin, is encouraging medical professionals across the country to ask the tough questions to help screen for food insecurity among their patients. If they are determined to be in need, doctors will refer them to resources like Caritas to enable them to get the nutrition they need.

Anne Gargano Ahmed, coordinator for HungerCare Coalition, said many individuals are embarrassed to admit they need financial help to ensure their food security.

"It really helps to do a universal screening to help identify who may need help," Gargano said to the medical professionals gathered. "Usually the reaction, even among those people that do not need help, is positive because they are glad that their doctor cares enough to ask."

Julie Sprecher, CEO of Community Health Systems, said she believes the organizations share a common goal that will make them effective partners.

"I think the two organizations embody the mission of comprehensive care, which we strive to live up to in our community," Sprecher said.

Donna Ambrose, executive director of Caritas, also was excited for the opportunity to more effectively serve the Beloit community.

"I am most excited for this partnership between medicine and health, and food and security," Ambrose said. "Poor health is poor nutrition, and we are working together to fight against that."

The USDA defines food security as having "access, at all times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members." Families can be considered food insecure if they:

• Experience anxiety about having enough food in the house

• Have to purchase lower quality, lower variety, or less desirable food

• Have to eat less food or less often

According to HungerCare, research shows that food insecurity can have serious health effects across the lifespan. Children in food insecure environments are more likely to suffer from poor overall health, frequent stomachaches and headaches, psychological and behavioral problems, worse developmental outcomes and more chronic illnesses.

Similarly, adults suffering from food insecurity are more likely to suffer from depression, lowered immune function, hypertension, heart attack and congestive heart failure as well as dizziness or falls.

Ambrose said due to partnerships with agencies like HungerCare Coalition, financial donations go further than food drives towards helping families in need.

"Every dollar is three meals due to our partnerships with other organizations," Ambrose said.

For more information on free meal sites and food pantries, dial 2-1-1 or go to www.211wisconsin.org.

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