LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — A program in Lancaster County is trying to help people with health issues who are also struggling to put food on the table.
It is called the Food Farmacy program, a partnership between Lancaster General Hospital and food pantries in the area. Just starting its third year, it continues to grow, nearly doubling its numbers since 2022.
“It definitely was a good tool to have,” former Food Farmacy patient Heather Domena said.
When Heather Domena decided she wanted to lose weight, she turned to doctors at LGH.
“They hooked me up with the Food Farmacy, so that way I can get some education,” she said.
The Food Farmacy is a program aimed at people dealing with both health issues, like pre-diabetes or diabetes, as well as food insecurity. Patients get referred to the program by their providers.
“People know that they should eat a healthy diet, but sometimes having access to those healthy foods…can be complicated or difficult,” dietician Chaplin Mazzocchi said.
The program pairs dieticians like Mazzocchi with people like Domena.
“I was super nervous because I thought it was going to be a really negative experience, like don’t do this and don’t do that,” Domena said about her first meeting.
It did not turn out that way. Mazzocchi said the meetings, which happen monthly, are about setting nutrition goals, educating people about nutrition basics and finding a plan that works for them.
“When we are working with our patients, we’re trying to help with their intake of foods that are lower in added sugar, lower sodium, lower saturated fat, whole grain options,” she said.
Those foods, however, can be costlier, so LGH works with local food pantries to increase access to that food.
“Our food warehouse personnel work very closely to make sure that we are providing the correct inventory that they need,” said Paige McFarling, executive director of the Lancaster County Food Hub.
McFarling said the Lancaster County Food Hub was one of the first pantries to get involved with the Food Farmacy program, starting in its pilot stage back in 2019. She said food pantries already try to provide healthy and nutritious food, but the Food Farmacy “can take that…one step further.”
The Lancaster County Food Hub stocks a separate pantry tailored specifically to Food Farmacy patients. McFarling said they stock that using donations as well as a stipend from LGH.
Domena said the program gave her the tools she needed to change her eating habits.
“Before the program it was like mushrooms and green beans and broccoli for everything, and then I realized there’s other options that are out there,” she said.
Mazzocchi added, in the two years of the program, she has seen real improvements in health.
“Close to 75 percent have made changes in their eating behaviors,” she said.
The Food Farmacy program currently exists at five food pantries around Lancaster County. LGH is working to expand into Ephrata next.