A FAST approach to helping food insecurity

During a social-needs screening, a social worker discovers that a patient, who will soon be discharged, has screened positive for food insecurity, meaning they struggle to afford or access enough nutritious food to sustain a healthy life. Rather than spending time calling individual community-based organizations (CBOs) to find help for the patient, the social worker simply posts a request on a website and not only finds an organization that can provide the food, but also a way to have it delivered directly to the patient’s home. Two clicks and the problem is solved.

Onika Washington-Johnson hands a box of food to David Cabello in a parking lot.
Onika Washington-Johnson hands a box of food to David Cabello, founder of Black and Mobile food delivery service, outside of Share Food Program’s facility. (Image: Penn Medicine Service in Action)

Welcome to the “FAST” way of doing things.

FAST (Food Access Support Technology) is a new platform created by Penn Medicine’s Center for Health Equity Advancement (CHEA) that connects health systems, food access CBOs and minority-owned small businesses to fight food insecurity. It grew from a CHEA initiative last spring that helped get food to vulnerable populations who couldn’t leave their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic while helping to keep people employed. Out-of-work catering employees—and their delivery vans—were paired with a CBO that had food available for people in need, but no way to deliver it quickly enough to keep up with requests. The initiative was supported, in part, by a Penn Medicine CAREs grant. The result: over 2,700 boxes of food delivered to vulnerable households, including the elderly and individuals with disabilities, in the first 15 weeks.

“We had an undeniable case that this was a need,” says Jaya Aysola, executive director of CHEA and assistant dean of Inclusion and Diversity at the Perelman School of Medicine. “Food insecurity is the number one problem in social needs assessments and all health systems in the city are going to the same CBOs. There was a compelling case to coordinate these connections.”

Although the initiative is currently small, the impact can be felt. Since May, FAST has facilitated food access for 95 households.

This story is by Sally Sapega. Read more at Penn Medicine Service in Action.