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Medical students open food pantry for patients in JayDoc clinic

The clinic run by students now offers free food from Harvesters Community Food Network with special emphasis on fresh produce and providing care for the whole person.

Two medical students in masks behind table of boxed food items
KU School of Medicine students Ashley DeBauge and Grant Johnson set up items for the food pantry during one of the first sessions in August 2021. At that time, food was in the Kirmayer Fitness Center lobby because of COVID-19 precautions, but the pick-up site is now located in the lobby of the JayDoc Free Clinic.

Thanks to students in the University of Kansas School of Medicine, patients of the JayDoc Free Clinic on Tuesday nights now have access to an in-clinic food pantry.

The idea for offering food in the same place some of Kansas City’s uninsured and underinsured go for non-emergency health care came from Jadesola Akinwuntan, then a second-year medical student.

In 2021, she enlisted the help of fellow medical student Ashley DeBauge, Courtney Sharp and Grant Johnson. Akinwuntan and DeBauge were leaders of the student organization Complementary and Integrative Medicine Advocates (CIMA).

CIMA then consulted with Shelley Bhattacharya, D.O., MPH, associate professor of family medicine and community health at KU School of Medicine, because of her interest in nutrition in health care.

The three shared some information on how the clinic came about.

Q: Why did you want to start a food pantry pick-up site at the JayDoc clinic?

Akinwuntan: Coming into medical school, I really wanted to be about the community. Coming from a Nigerian background, holistic health was really just a part of our healing culture. But what really gave me confidence was talking to Dr. Bhattacharya. She said we (at KU Medical Center) do this all the time: we integrate medicine, we have holistic methods, nutrition discussions and exercise – all as part of integrated care for patients.

Bhattacharya: The food pantry is a fantastic idea. There’s definitely a need, especially with the ongoing pandemic and the hardships that so many families are facing right now. Families are needing good, healthy food that can make it that extra step until their next support (paycheck) can come in. This is really a great way to help the community.

Q: Why did you focus on nutrition as a way to help the community?
Food in boxes on table

Food for the pantry at the JayDoc Free Clinic comes from Harvesters Community Food Network, and medical students can choose specific offerings based on the needs of the patients being seen that evening.

All photos this page contributed by Ashley DeBauge.

Akinwuntan: It just seemed like the best and smartest way to start to help, especially for people with diabetes, and how much diabetes can be prevented with good diets. By serving a community that may be financially disadvantaged, we are helping with fresh produce, which may be hard for this group to access on their own.

DeBauge: There were many community resources available at the JayDoc clinic such as pamphlets and handouts, where to find primary care doctors and even information about food pantries. But it’s just so much more of a tangible benefit when you’re physically able to hand people a free box of food at the end of the night.

Q: Where does the food for the pantry come from?

DeBauge: We coordinate to pick up the food from Harvesters Community Food Network. And then we prepare a menu (for the week, with recipe suggestions) based off of the food we were able to pick up from Harvesters, written in both Spanish and English.

Akinwuntan: Yes, and if you are a patient at JayDoc, you are a patient of the food pantry and welcome to get whatever you need. Sometimes, we see families of 10 people. So, we try to cater those boxes and the amount of food we give those families of 10.  We also have noticed that a huge barrier for a lot of people to go into food pantries is transportation. We've become a one-stop shop, not just for health care and prescriptions but also for healthy food options.

Q: So, on any given Tuesday evening at JayDoc Free Clinic, what are you providing patients as part of that menu plan?
Jadesola Akinwuntan holds a bag of produce near a table of food
KU School of Medicine student Jadesola Akinwuntan checks out the produce available to JayDoc patients in November 2021. The medical students selected plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to add to the JayDoc clinic's food pantry. 

Akinwuntan: We get the fresh produce box that Harvesters offers. This often comes with onions, potatoes and sweet potatoes. We also can get things like avocados, raspberries, blueberries and pineapple. We really prioritize fresh produce because right now, we don’t have the means to store dairy and meat. We also tailor the menu to the specialty night we’re serving (at the clinic). So, if it’s a diabetes night, we’re going to stay away from sugary snacks and chips.

DeBauge: Volunteer medical students who are working that night hand every patient a form, and those patients can see all the different options of food that are available for that night and be able to pick out what they prefer. It’s nice, because instead of giving a one-size-fits-all box of food, we’re able to tailor it.

Q: The American Society for Nutrition says “food as medicine” is an important crossroad between nutrition and medicine. Do you think of providing healthy food to your patients as yet another role in your medical career?

DeBauge: Getting student physicians involved with the food pantry and the menu shows them that this is important. We may prescribe the medication, but we’re also providing the supplemental and holistic care that is honestly just as needed as the other medication.

Bhattacharya: The pantry has also been a platform to bring students together for a worthwhile purpose, and a platform for the community to get a healthy variety of food. It’s also an educational platform, to increase awareness and visibility (of nutrition). It helps to fill a void in how we learn as a health care community about things that just aren’t well known or well covered (in the classroom).

Akinwuntan: It’s also helped to build rapport with patients. One night, when I was volunteering as a student physician, I met this patient who was a pantry user. But I had met her before when I was staffing the pantry, and we had interacted, so that connection was already there. Now every time I see her at the clinic, I ask how she’s doing. I think that whenever you’re interacting with patients beyond prescription pills and your diagnosis, it makes the whole medical experience better – because it’s at the human level.

Note: The pantry is now continuing under the next year of CIMA leadership, including medical students Rebekah Elliott, Denise Muchangi, Ryan Asauskas and Clara Bing. Akinwuntan and DeBauge, now in their next year of medical school, handed over the reins.

For more information on the JayDoc Free Clinic, including its free food pantry during its specialty clinics on Tuesday nights, email the clinic.

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