Food & Friends began with a vision – a vision that connected an unmet need with real possibilities. In the late eighties, the recently discovered AIDS virus was victimizing the country and leaving thousands of District residents helpless to perform everyday tasks -- such as preparing their own meals.
In 2000, we expanded to serve individuals undergoing cancer treatments. And now, we are positioned to help another group of people – those living with high-risk diabetes.
Nearly 1 in 10 District of Columbia residents has been diagnosed with diabetes. That makes diabetes more common than cancer.
Diabetes has a devastating effect on each patient diagnosed – and their families. Untreated diabetes can lead to heart problems, kidney failure, limb amputations and more. This is an urgent crisis in our area and Food & Friends is responding.
Last fall, through a partnership with George Washington University Heart & Vascular Institute and United Medical Center, we launched a pilot program that will provide nutritious meals to people with high-risk diabetes and helps them learn to better manage their disease by making smarter food choices.
“This population is different than our regular population—they aren’t all nutritionally compromised in quite the same way as our other clients when they start service,” says Carrie Stoltzfus, Director of Programs. “But, what they eat has a more direct effect on the ramifications of the illness. When diabetics don’t eat right, over time the chronically high blood sugars can lead to heart failure, stroke, kidney disease and blindness.”
Almost 100 clients have enrolled in the program. They are receiving meals tailored to their specific dietary needs, as well as meals for their caretakers and dependents. More than 28,800 meals have been delivered so far and are having a positive effect.
Successfully managing ones diabetes requires a complete lifestyle shift. So, in addition to meals, our registered dietitians are providing personalized nutrition counseling so the participants can learn how to make healthy food choices. They are also performing quarterly nutrition assessments so that we may gauge the impact these services have on the overall health of each participant.
Even though we’ve only just begun this journey, we are already witnessing positive results.
We’ve heard from participants that they feel less fatigued, less depressed and are experiencing fewer side effects. Additionally, some participants feel less scared and worried about their illness, feel less alone and are doing a better job coping with diabetes.
“We’re looking at where the client stands health-wise before they get to Food & Friends, and where they are after receiving our services for a year,” says Carrie. “We’re hoping to make people's lives easier, and have a positive effect on how they live with their illness day to day."
We are very excited about the opportunities the pilot study will provide in the upcoming year. Throughout 2015 and into 2016, we will continue collecting patient health data to measure the impact of healthy eating and nutrition education on individuals facing diabetes.
The full results of the assessments will not be available until next fall. The outcome of the pilot study will be used to determine whether Food & Friends should permanently extend services to those whose primary illness is diabetes.