August 22, 2017

Community Spotlight – Working with MANNA and YMCA to Eliminate Food Insecurity

About a year ago George Frady was nearly 50 pounds overweight. He had trouble breathing and was on multiple medications for afflictions like high blood pressure.

“I’d be dead today, if it wasn’t for him,” said Frady.

He is quick to give credit for his renewed health to Mission Health Partners physician Thomas German, MD. But Dr. German gives the credit to the lifestyle changes made by the 61 year old, and specifically his food choices.

“If we all got around six to eight servings of fruit and vegetables a day, we could almost guarantee that we wouldn’t gain any weight and we would probably lose weight, without having to take anything out of our diet,” said Dr. German.

That is much easier said than done for many in western North Carolina. In fact, in parts of the 18-county region Mission Health serves, 1 in 3 children is considered food insecure, meaning they often go without food, or the types of processed food their families can afford are not providing them with the nutrition they need.

“You can be both overweight and struggling with obesity and at the same time be a household that is food insecure,” said Calvin Tompkins, MD, the Assistant Medical Director of Mission Health Partners.

The prevalence of hunger and the health problems caused by poor nutrition weighed heavily on Dr. Tompkins, to the point that he set about creating a partnership with MANNA FoodBank and the YMCA. It is a partnership that Mission Health’s Community Investment program has identified through a community health assessment process as one that can have a widespread, positive impact on the well-being of families in our community.

“The partnership between Mission Health, MANNA and the YMCA on this project is a great example of the power of collaboration,” said Sonya Greck, Senior Vice President at Mission Health. “By recognizing and appreciating each other’s strengths and coming together as partners, we can be more effective in our efforts to improve the health of our community.”

“The practices are now screening patients for food insecurity,” said Dr. Tompkins.

If the answer is yes, the practices put them in touch with MANNA FoodBank and its network of resources and also with the YMCA, which teaches people how to cook through its mobile kitchens.

“We find that writing a prescription as we would for any other need puts the kind of emphasis on it that hopefully will encourage families to take advantage of this opportunity,” said Dr. Tompkins.

Mr. Frady is living proof that food is medicine.

“I quit eating TV dinners, I quit going to McDonalds, I quit going to Pizza Hut, I started cooking,” Frady said. “I started going to the food bank, and when I walked in, instead of getting canned goods, I saw big boxes of tomatoes, boxes of potatoes and squash. To get the quality of food I got and to know a lot of it is grown right here in this county it’s amazing,” he added.

“What we want is to change the way the charitable food network and the health community interact,” said Katy German, Agency Relation Manager with MANNA. “So instead of thinking of each other as an afterthought, we are really integrated.”

“This is a huge opportunity for us to feed families and create sustainable change,” said Cory Jackson, YMCA’s Food Program Regional Facilitator. “This is a huge opportunity. Without the Mission funding, this project wouldn’t have happened.”

“We spend $3 trillion on healthcare in this country. Eighty percent of that are sort of lifestyle decision consequences,” said Dr. Tompkins. “The trillions of dollars we spend on healthcare could be better spent on programs that support families so that they are never in a position to have to make choices between rent and nutritious foods. Until we’re doing that, this is going to continue to be a problem and necessitate the need for food insecurity screenings and the quick fixes with the pharmaceuticals.”

To learn more about Mission Health’s Community Investment Program, visit