Working together to fulfill community needs in Nashville

Working together to fulfill community needs in Nashville

When the COVID-19 pandemic prompted lockdowns in March 2020, Nashville was already reeling from a deadly tornado that hit the city just weeks before. Between these two unprecedented events, residents struggling to find their next meal faced even greater challenges.

In fact, 1 in 8 residents and 1 in 7 children in middle Tennessee are food insecure, lacking consistent and reliable access to the nutritious food needed for an active and healthy life. 

Nashville General Hospital Foundation began its Outreach Food Program in response to the pandemic and tornado, providing fresh produce and shelf-stable foods at no cost to area individuals and families. The program continues today with volunteers delivering food bags each week. Since March 2020, more than 725,000 bags of nutrient-dense meals have been provided to those in need.

Recently, UnitedHealthcare and Optum donated $12,000 to help stock the Outreach Food Program pantry and employee volunteers joined Tennessee Titans all-pro defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons to pack food bags.

“We know access to fresh, healthy foods can have a tremendous impact on health outcomes,” said Dr. Kiffany Peggs, chief medical officer, UnitedHealthcare Community and State of Tennessee. “Food-insecure individuals are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease, while children struggling with hunger can have delayed development, chronic illnesses and behavioral problems.”

As much as 80% of what influences a person’s health relates to nonmedical issues such as access to healthy food, stable housing, reliable transportation and the financial means to pay for basic daily needs. Families facing food insecurity often have to make difficult choices between buying groceries and paying for other essentials like rent or health care.

“We care about the communities we serve, and we’re grateful for organizations like the Nashville General Hospital Foundation that step up in times of need,” said Suha Assi, chief executive officer, UnitedHealthcare Medicare and Retirement in Tennessee. “We want to support those that share our common goals of addressing the social determinants of health and expanding access to care.”

The Foundation also provides healthy foods through its Food Pharmacy to Nashville General Hospital patients identified with food insecurity and with a chronic illness or cancer. Based on the idea of “food as medicine,” the Food Pharmacy promotes healthy eating and lifestyle habits to improve overall health. Last year alone, the combined Food Pharmacy and Outreach Food Program logged more than 11,600 volunteer hours packing and delivering more than 7,800 food totes.

“To us, it’s not just about the game of football,” Simmons said. “We want to help our community and better our community.”