At Mercy Health, we recognize the factors that drive individual and community health extend beyond the walls of our hospitals. That’s why, for years, we’ve been working together with the community to address the social determinants of health.
Did you know that medical factors only account for about 20 percent of your health? While the other 80 percent is influenced by outside factors?
These outside factors are also known as social determinants, and include things such as housing, education, transportation and access to healthy foods.
We know from our Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) that food insecurity is a very real problem in many of our communities, and specifically in our Lima market. This city of about 36,000 has a poverty rate of 24.2 percent, according to the U.S. Census. That is more than double the national rate of 11.6 percent.
Over the years, our ministry has worked with food pantries and organizations to help improve access to high-quality food in food deserts – which are areas without a grocery store.
One of the most recent ways in which we are addressing food insecurity in the Lima area is through our Blessing Boxes program.
This free-standing pantry box is stocked with non-perishable food items such as boxes of cereal, canned foods, pasta, peanut butter, jelly, fruit cups and personal care items and available around the clock to those in need. It is located in the gardens at the corner of Spring and Collett Streets and at the Jackson Street Community Gardens, and came from the idea of a passionate nurse who saw a need to help the community.
Laurie Camper, a registered nurse with Mercy Health – St. Rita’s Medical Center, came up with the idea while she was stocking a similar blessing box near her church. She hadn’t recalled seeing a blessing box in the city and thought it would be a great way for our faith-based, mission-driven health system to support those community members in need.
Laurie first took her idea to her manager, who directed her to contact hospital leaders. From there, a committee was formed. This committee, made up of representatives from various departments, promotes and oversees this project. St. Rita’s Medical Center also called on community partners and enlisted the help of a nearby trade school to design and build the two boxes.
“For those that may be struggling with food insecurity or access to healthy foods, this issue is deeply personal,” Laurie explains.
“By design, the blessing box allows community members in need to seek and receive assistance discretely and anonymously. Community members or families in need can claim as much as they need as often as they need, anonymously and without having to show any proof. Nobody sets any rules or says, ‘take only two things.’ If you need it, you take it.”
To keep the boxes stocked, Laurie has created a cart with a list of needed items: canned and boxed foods and cleaning supplies as well as hygiene products. The cart rotates among departments at St. Rita’s Medical Center that have volunteered to fill it and transfer the supplies to the blessing boxes. In addition, generous community members have also been donating items to the blessing boxes. Those who are also interested in donating can simply come and leave food items inside.
“This blessing box is just another outward sign and a small way that we are able to help our community members in need to have more secure food sources,” Ronda Lehman, our Lima market president, shares. “Unlike food pantries, which have a much wider variety of products but are open at set times, the outdoor food boxes are accessible at all times. We are so proud of Laurie and our entire team for coming together to bring this idea to life to help improve the health of our community.”
“Food access is a critical factor on the overall health outcomes of a community,” Tyler Smith, director of community health in our Lima market, adds. “Food insecurity can take the form of not having enough food, as well as not having stable access to healthy and quality food. Lack of food directly impacts health outcomes and increases the odds of developing or worsening chronic disease. A significant number of residents and our patients, both adult and youth, within our neighboring communities experience food insecurity at various times. By implementing a blessing box at one of our local community gardens we are helping to make incremental changes to alleviate food insecurity within our community.”
In addition to our blessing boxes in Lima, we proudly have some in a few of our other Mercy Health markets as well.
Learn more about our ministry’s Mission.