From cooking healthy meals on a budget to eating a balanced diet, the University's free health clinic, Flourish, aims to provide nutrition education and resources to combat local food insecurity.
Flourish works to equip low-income individuals and families with nutritional resources including a nutrition education table every other week, individual nutrition coaching and motivational food-centric messages to patients.
Flourish was started by UNC medical students based on the idea that nutrition and food insecurity play a critical role in health, said Alice Ammerman, director of the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and faculty adviser for the clinic.
The Student Health Action Coalition is Flourish’s parent organization. Located in Carrboro, SHAC opened in 1967 as the nation’s first free student-run clinic.
“(Flourish) has grown over the years,” Ammerman said. “It is now affiliated with the SHAC Clinic that was founded and has been operated by medical and other health affairs students for over 20 years.”
Senior Sylvia Wang, co-director of Flourish, said it is a unique program from SHAC because its volunteers include undergraduate students.
“Unlike other programs at SHAC, (members and volunteers) do not need a medical degree or certain certifications to get involved,” Wang said.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Flourish has not been able to host their Cooking Matters at the Store tours, where participants tour a grocery store and learn how to buy nutritional foods on a budget of $10 to $20, Wang said.
However, even through COVID-19, Flourish has not sat idle.
“We really started ramping our efforts up during the pandemic," Wang said. "We started the food drive last year in response to the pandemic."
Root Causes, an organization run by Duke University School of Medicine students, partners with Flourish to collect food from local food banks and supply it to Flourish’s food pick-up table at SHAC. They are responsible for storing the food at Farmer Foodshare until a Flourish or SHAC volunteer picks it up, Wang said.
Wang said that every Wednesday, Flourish picks up approximately 50 pounds of food and drops it off at the SHAC Clinic to give out to participants. Additionally, Flourish provides nutrition education at their tables every other Wednesday, she said.
Currently, Flourish’s efforts are focused on the weekly food distribution at the clinic, Wang said. However, they are hoping to get more volunteers to be able to provide nutrition education each week, rather than every other, and restart programs like the Cooking Matters at the Store Tour soon.
Junior Malik Tiedt, the nutrition education chairperson for Flourish, said that due to the program's partnership with Root Causes, Flourish will be able to increase the amount of food they offer to SHAC’s participants in the coming weeks and months.
When patients pick up food at the SHAC location, Wang said she may point out certain vitamins in the food and how it can prepare it.
“I want the patient population at SHAC to be more educated and healthier," Wang said.
Tiedt said it would be great to establish a collaborative effort, such as the one Flourish has with Root Causes, with other campus organizations that help address food insecurity.
With the Root Causes partnership and student volunteers involved with Flourish, the clinic continues to focus on teaching low-income individuals and families about healthy eating.
“Even if we are just able to contribute one thing to someone’s diet, I think that means we are being successful,” Tiedt said.
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