Putting the ‘Heal’ in Health Care At the Food Bank for Monterey County, working with the agricultural community is the best way to meet the community’s nutrition needs.

By Ann Donahue F or Melissa Kendrick, the CEO and Executive Director of the Food Bank for Monterey County, her mission is two-fold. Like every food bank, the organization strives to end hunger in the community—and in Monterey County, this is a pressing issue, as it is estimated that one in three children and one in four adults are affected by food scarcity. The number of food insecure clients reached by the food bank are now quadruple what they were pre-COVID. That, believe it or not, is the easier problem for the food bank to solve. An established infrastructure exists—a COVID-tested supply chain, at that—to get food from the fields to those who need it most. The more difficult issue is the one that requires educational outreach alongside these logistics. “It’s not just important that we feed people,” Kendrick said. “It’s also important what we feed people.” Kendrick and her team want to transform the health of the community through good

nutrition. And that, she said, is a much more complicated long-term issue than beating hunger. “We have sick care here, not health care, and we have no preventative medicine,” Kendrick said of society’s overarching attitude towards wellbeing. That needs to change, and the best way to do so is a straightforward solution, especially in an area as agriculturally blessed as Monterey County. “Preventative medicine, first and foremost, is food,” she said. It’s time, in other words, to put the ‘heal’ in health care. More national media attention has recently been drawn to this issue as a result of the Sept. 28 White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health. During that event, President Joe Biden unveiled a National Strategy that outlined actions the federal government will take to address these issues. This strategy, coming right before the behind-the-scenes wrangling begins in earnest over the next Farm Bill, represents a pivotal moment for well- intended policies to become action.

“Calling it the Farm Bill is such a misnomer because it really is the Nutrition Bill,” Kendrick said. Making national-level politics applicable at the local level is one of the biggest challenges for those who work in the non-profit sector. It’s no secret that the most tender-hearted in society are drawn towards working at charities—but for Kendrick, good deeds can’t come at the expense of good sense. Before joining the Food Bank for Monterey County, Kendrick worked in the for-profit world in the technology sector. “I’m very pragmatic,” she said. “In high tech, we deployed design thinking. I’m always looking at numbers—the ways that we could reduce costs and spending on anything else that would make us more productive.” In her current role, the math is simple to solve one of the community’s biggest problems: Growers + Food Bank = Good Nutrition. The Food Bank has deep roots in

From left: Several health programs address diseases often associated with poverty. For example, the Pediatric Diabetes program is weekly nutrition education paired with weekly groceries for unique dietary concerns. The Breast Cancer assistance group program delivers healthy groceries for women and their families while they are going through treatment. Right: The fleet of refrigerated vehicles.



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