Not just food—healthy food. Curington lifts the lid of the box and starts pointing out its contents: low-carb tortillas to replace bread, low-fat turkey bacon as a protein, Greek yogurt, sweet potatoes and 24 other items. It also includes 27 recipe cards—three meals a day for nine days—that can be used with the food.
Cheryl stares through teary eyes at all of the food that is being given to her in an effort to make her healthier. In May, the pharmacy initiated a unique program called the PHARMer’s Market in which it is giving out healthy food to 50 of its high-risk diabetic patients in order to help them return to good health and document the impact of food as a drug. The concept is a result of a grant from CVS Pharmacy and the National Association of Free Clinics.
“The idea of food as a drug is not new,” says Curington, “but it’s certainly trending at the moment, which is sad because it should have always been a consideration because all disease states are impacted by food. In my vision, all pharmacies would be dispensing food as drugs—here’s your medicine, here are your over-the-counter products and the salad is over there. What would make that so great—and what makes this so appealing—is that it’s a multidisciplinary approach. You have your doctor, your pharmacist and your social worker involved. It’s coordinated care.”
That’s also what helped CVS pick St. Vincent de Paul for the grant. CVS previously took a giant step toward changing the idea of what a pharmacy should offer when it stopped selling cigarettes—a huge moneymaker but contradictory to promoting good health—in its stores.
“I began my career selling cigarettes at Walgreens,” he says. “Why is a pharmacy selling cigarettes?”
Without getting into the economics or business models of pharmacies, Curington points out that freestanding pharmacies still don’t sell healthy foods, or pharmacies in grocery stores are always located on the other side of the produce.
The PHARMer’s Market is also a coordinated effort with St. Vincent de Paul’s food pantries, which is trying to change its focus from strictly addressing the issue of hunger to a more informed approach of addressing both hunger and health. Not all of the PHARMer’s Market food is currently available in the pantry, so Curington uses the grant money to purchase what’s needed to fill the boxes.
“People just don’t donate low-fat turkey bacon or Greek yogurt to the food pantry,” he says.
St. Vincent de Paul is planting gardens in an effort to supplement its food pantries with fresh produce, something that is becoming more and more common. Curington points to Boston Medical Center, which has a food pantry that receives 60 percent of its produce from the hospital’s rooftop garden. Doctors send patients to the pantry.