ST. PETERSBURG – Food Is Medicine, a nationally-recognized program that provides health education, screenings and food access for communities deemed as food deserts, expands its reach to the Campbell Park neighborhood in St. Petersburg this month.
More than 144,000 people in Pinellas County (including 25% of the youth population) are food insecure or lack consistent access to food, according to Feeding Tampa Bay. Food Is Medicine not only includes a component designed to improve food access, it provides guidance and tools that enable participants to make more informed decisions about their diet.
Rev. Canon Katie Churchwell, Canon for Community Formation at The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and community organizer for Food Is Medicine said the program empowers people to make the best choices they can using the resources they have. “They may not have the choice to go and only shop organic which can be really expensive,” Churchwell said, but “nonorganic tomatoes are better for you than canned tomatoes, and canned tomatoes are better for you than potato chips.”
There are many food deserts in St. Petersburg, but Churchwell said she led the charge to bring the program here because “neighborhoods like Campbell Park need real transformation.”
When Churchwell first came to town last year, she reached out to all five schools profiled in, “Failure Factories,” the Pulitzer Prize winning, five-part, multi-media series published by the Tampa Bay Times in 2015 about failing schools in Pinellas County.
“The unintended impact of that title on the staff and students of those schools is really awful,” Churchwell said.
Campbell Park Elementary School, the largest of the five schools profiled, responded to Churchwell’s call and a partnership began that’s resulted in cake walks, adopted classrooms, and donations of holiday gifts, school supplies and food for the students at Campbell Park Elementary.
Churchwell feels it’s her role as a priest to use the authority and privilege of her position to help correct imbalances.
“For me, it’s a justice issue that people don’t have access to food,” Churchwell said recalling the bible story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. “He fed them really good food,” she said, not “condensed cream of celery that somebody didn’t want that’s expired.”
The program, which is free to SNAP eligible parents, is organized into six-week cycles of two-hour education sessions offered once a week. Participants are given groceries and a $10 voucher for Gulfport Produce at each education session they attend. A health screening is administered at the beginning and end of each cycle to monitor their progress.
The first series, “Cooking Matters for Families,” kicks-off Wednesday, Aug. 16 at the Campbell Park Recreation Center.
Food Is Medicine was created in 2015 by Florida Hospital, Carrollwood. The program has served more than 1,700 individuals, whose outcomes have far exceeded the initial goal of decreasing blood sugar levels in 20 percent of participants.
According to Food Is Medicine program data, 46 percent of program participants lowered their blood sugar levels and 52 percent lowered their BMI. These health improvements are attributed to increased access to healthy foods and behavior changes related to food selection, preparation and consumption.
The first year of the program in Pinellas County is being funded by a grant obtained by The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter, who is producing the program in partnership with the University of Florida IFAS Extension Family Nutrition Program, the City of St. Petersburg Parks and Recreation Department, Healthy St. Pete and Baycare Health System. As the program develops further, it will take on more partners to be announced.
For more information visit spcathedral.com/foodismedicine. For program registration information call (727) 582-2104 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.