In collaboration with the Freestore Food Bank, the St. Elizabeth Center for Integrative Oncology hosted a ribbon cutting and blessing of the new Nourish food pantry on Sept. 7, 2023. This food pantry fills a significant need in the Northern Kentucky community for people undergoing cancer treatment and their families who have trouble affording food — especially healthy options to nourish the healing body.
Though the official ribbon cutting occurred in September, Nourish has been helping cancer patients and their families since June 2023. In fact, the pantry has already supplied food to more than 1,825 people.
“This is a great example of us as a community convener because this doesn’t happen without partners. When the Freestore Foodbank stepped up, it was an amplifier of our benefit to the community,” says Douglas Flora, MD and Executive Medical Director of Oncology Services.
Comprehensive Cancer Support Services
The Center for Integrative Oncology offers comprehensive, complementary services for people going through cancer treatment and their families. “The Center provides holistic care options to complement St. Elizabeth’s comprehensive medical care,” says Maggie Biesinger, Integrative Oncology Manager. “The Center focuses on treating the whole person – mind, body and soul.”
While undergoing cancer treatment — and beyond — at St. Elizabeth, you can take advantage of complementary services, including:
- Art and music therapy.
- Licensed dietitians dedicated to cancer care.
- Cooking demonstrations with social and nutritional classes.
- Mind-body therapies.
- Social workers.
- Spiritual support.
It was these dietitians who first raised the need to support patients who are food insecure. “They noticed a gap in care for our patients that did not have access to healthy foods,” explains Biesinger. “It was causing issues for patients to handle their treatments, fight their disease and recover from cancer.”
On a Mission to Fulfill Community Needs
“Patients were in situations where they had to choose between using their money for medication or using their money for food,” adds Dwinelva Zackery, Director of the Center for Integrative Oncology. The Center found that, at some point, about 40% of St. Elizabeth patients identify as food insecure.
“The Freestore Foodbank has a phenomenal reputation of filling food pantries in our communities,” says Biesinger. “We went to them with our idea of starting a food pantry, and they loved the idea.”
The Freestore Foodbank’s mission is to improve lives by eliminating hunger in partnership with our community. “And our vision is to create a hunger-free, healthy, and thriving community,” says Biesinger. “To achieve this vision, our objectives are to provide nutritious food, connect people to support services and offer a pathway from crisis to stability.”
Kurt Reiber, President and CEO of the Freestore Foodbank, says, “Nourish does two things. First, it raises awareness of the need that’s out there, but it also destigmatizes the effort that’s needed to receive food in a healthy, nutritious way.”
With the support of the St. Elizabeth leadership team, Biesinger, Zackery and their team created an “open shopping” experience for patients. “There are no questions asked and no referral needed,” says Biesinger. “We want to ensure that patients who need it can take advantage of the services.”
Food as Medicine
As part of their offerings, the Center also offers a demonstration kitchen. In the kitchen, dietitians teach patients and families how to prepare nourishing meals. Taking inspiration from sessions in the demonstration kitchen, patients can now “shop” in the Nourish food pantry and choose items that they can use to prepare healthy meals for themselves and their families.
“This is the concept that ‘food is medicine,’” explains Zackery. “Eating the right foods is just as important for our patients as getting their medicine for cancer treatment.”
Get the Support You Need
Beyond complementing the services that the Center already offers, the Nourish food pantry also aligns with St. Elizabeth’s mission to “provide comprehensive and compassionate care that improves the health of the people we serve.” This additional offering gives the Center another way to support patients and families through their journeys.
Learn more about the Center for Integrative Oncology and all our services to those undergoing cancer treatment and their families.