Operation Food Search announces new program, enabling healthier pregnancies via fresh food initiative

OAKLAND, Mo. – Operation Food Search (OFS), a nonprofit hunger relief organization that provides food and nutrition education, announced its new fresh food prescription program: Fresh Rx Nourishing Healthy Starts.

Fresh Rx is the only food-as-medicine program in existence that addresses food insecurity during pregnancy. OFS said its goal is to provide low-income women the experience of healthier pregnancies and healthy babies.

“Pregnancy and postpartum period are critical times for women to receive the best nutrition available for both themselves and their babies,” Lucinda Perry, director of strategic initiatives at OFS, said. “Fresh Rx is the perfect opportunity for our agency to make a difference in their lives by ensuring the healthiest start for everyone involved.”

The program launch came on Thursday with individuals from partner and donor organizations including Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation, Bayer, Fair Shares Combined Community Supported Agriculture (CCSA), SSM Health-DePaul OB Care Center and The Wallace Center at Winrock International.

Fair Shares’ food share packages (DANIELLE MAE FRANKLIN/CLAYTON TIMES)
According to OFS, Fresh Rx will eliminate food insecurity during pregnancy which will help to produce better birth outcomes for both moms and babies. Women who screen positive for food insecurity at their prenatal care appointment, at the OB Care Center on the DePaul Hospital campus, have the opportunity to enroll in the program which goes through the pregnancy and 60 days postpartum.

“We take care of women who are having challenges accessing prenatal care. Those having difficulty getting insurance or those that are too far along on their pregnancies to access care elsewhere,” Dr. Carolyn Pryor, medical director at SSM Health DePaul OB Care Center, said. “Being a partner with Operation Food Search in this Fresh Rx Nourishing Healthy Starts program is going to be a phenomenal addition to what we provide to our patients.”

Pryor said when patients visit DePaul OB Care Center they expect to receive prenatal care, but she and her staff are able to provide the patients with so much more. This includes addressing social issues and food services to only the moms, but their entire families.

OFS reported that research shows food insecurity during pregnancy is associated with the development of gestational diabetes, vitamin deficiencies and higher levels of stress and depression. Babies who are born to insecure mothers in this capacity are then more likely to exhibit low birth weight, birth defects and developmental delays.

“This program represents a shift in the way that we’re doing things,” Jennie Oberkon, manager of clinical integration at OFS, said. “We want to make ourselves much more accessible.”

Oberkon is also a social worker and works in Pryor’s office at the DePaul Hospital campus. If a woman, seeing Pryor, screens affirmative to food insecurity and is before 20 weeks, she can enter into the Fresh Rx program.

“I help moms with things like transportation, diapers, jobs, housing and I’m also a listening ear,” Oberkon said. “A lot of moms might have some stressful, interpersonal relationships, things that they want to discuss with me, things they want to get off their shoulders and I’m kind of that listening ear.”

Oberkon said the process is transferring trust. Patients form relationships and are able to confide in Oberkon or other individuals with the program. Through those relationships, individuals can ensure that moms are provided with the help and support they need to get the baby to full term and both mom and baby at a healthy outcome.

The food shares come from Fresh Rx program partner Fair Share that can be picked up at the OFS headquarters or be delivered, depending on participants accessibility. In the food share packages, participants receive a bag every two weeks, because of the winter season.

Fair Shares owners and founders Sara Hale and Jamie Choler with the food share packages (DANIELLE MAE FRANKLIN/CLAYTON TIMES)
The packages are different each week but always contain the proper amounts of nutrition and ingredients needed to make meals. The most recent package sent out to participants contained two types of meat, black beans, pasta, pasta sauce, pizza dough, cheese, a loaf of bread, spinach, honey, applesauce, apples, carrots, eggs, acorns and squash. Participants also get recipe cards and the opportunity to take a six-week series class and stand-alone classes through OFS.

“The different things that they have going on as well as the Fresh Rx are all kind of helping us see how we can grow the local food industry,” Sara Hale, owner and founder of Fair Shares CCSA, said. “The project is helping to fulfill our original goal of getting healthier, safer food into the mouths of those who need it most. We believe that good food is an expression of love and that feeding your family well should not be a privilege just for those who can afford it.”

Being enrolled in the Fresh Rx program includes:
· a weekly share of local protein, dairy, grain and produce for the entire household provided by OFS’ partners at Fair Shares CCSA and their network of 80 local farmers;
· one-on-one nutrition consultations with OFS’ Fresh Rx Dietitian;
· in-home and online nutrition and cooking tutorials from OFS’ Fresh Rx Community Chef;
· culinary skills and nutrition education classes, as well as Cooking Matters at the Store where participants learn how to be savvy shoppers during an interactive grocery store tour; and
· supportive services and community resources – including financial counseling, workforce development and diaper assistance – from Fresh Rx Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW).

Nausha Ress and her newborn baby girl. (DANIELLE MAE FRANKLIN/CLAYTON TIMES)
Nausha Ress, mom and participant of the Fresh Rx program, said the program has been very helpful when making meals for her whole family. She said having the food delivered came in handy. Ress has enjoyed the program so much that she invited her friend to come with her to the launch event to see what it’s all about.

“We love that it brings the family together. Our whole mission on this platform is, how do you ensure those who typically go without have access, knowledge to healthy, nutritious practices as well as food,” Al Mitchell, vice president of corporate engagement at Bayer, said. “Our investment in this wonderful organization was from an educational perspective, how do you share the knowledge? So I love that they’ve included the chef and the dietician in the program to help people understand the differences and nutritious value of healthy foods.”

OFS Fresh Rx Nourishing Healthy Starts program works to expand on the variety of foods that are also local to the region and paving the path forward for women who are motivated to make a change for themselves, baby and families. Fresh Rx works to change the way the entire household views and perceives nutrition by ensuring they have the proper knowledge and tools.

The program received a four-year grant from Monsanto Fund, a philanthropic arm of Bayer with additional funding from Anthem Foundation, Episcopal Presbyterian Health Trust and Wallace Center at Winrock International.

Watch the Fresh Rx Nourishing Healthy Starts program launch video here.