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Photo by Stacy Zarin Goldberg for The Washington Post.

An initiative from the Episcopal Health Foundation is aiming to improve access for Smith County residents to nutritious and affordable food.

The Foundation announced earlier this year that the St. Paul Children’s Foundation was the recipient of a $163,500, 18-month grant that will be used to help St. Paul become a part of the Texas Community Centered Health Homes Initiative.

“The idea is that you identify health problems that you see in the clinic and then instead of just treating them in the clinic, you think about what’s happening outside in the community that’s contributing to these health problems,” said Dr. Valerie Smith, a pediatrician at St. Paul. “For us here, we see a lot of children who have health problems related to unhealthy diets — obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, things like that.”

In implementing the model set forth to become a community center health home, staff at St. Paul have been going through special trainings designed to teach them about healthy eating, gardening and more — information they can then pass on to the community and clients they serve. 

Dr. Smith said the organization has also been reaching out to local farmers and farmers markets with a special goal in mind.

“…When they have excess produce this growing season they can help get it to the (food) pantries so that the pantries will have healthier food options available,” she said.

Partnering with other local healthcare providers who could give patients a two-question Hunger Vital Sign screening is also something the foundation hopes to accomplish and believes would improve health outcomes within the county.

“By reducing food insecurity our goal is to help reduce those health outcomes, but also to give those families the opportunities to really fully take care of their issues…and to be able to afford their medicine and follow through with those chronic care things,” Dr. Smith said.

She added that ultimately they also hope to create a group comprised of stakeholders from local healthcare providers and local food pantries that would form a food security council for Smith County. The council would focus on improving health outcomes and reducing food insecurity.

One fifth of people in Smith County are lacking access to an adequate amount of affordable and nutritious food, according to data from Feeding America, a hunger relief organization with a network of 200 food banks.

Thirteen other Texas clinics also were awarded grants. Officials are hoping that the funds will have a lasting impact in improving the health of those in need across the state.

“Medical care alone isn’t enough to keep many Texans healthy,” Lexi Nolen, Episcopal Health Foundation’s vice president for impact, said in a news release. “…This is a new approach to go beyond patient-only treatments and promote change at the systems and community levels.”

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