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More than medicine: Syracuse doctors office opens food pantry to help fight hunger in CNY

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Often times when you go to the doctor, you come home with medication. But one Syracuse doctor's office is giving out something else. They are sending patients home with bags of food, hoping to be part of he solution to help fight hunger in Central New York.

Inside the Upstate Health Care Center in downtown Syracuse is a doctor's office filled with more than just medical equipment. Here you will find shelves stocked with food. "The patient will circle exactly what they would like in here to make sure everything is well balanced," said Maribeth Schoeneck, the clinic's Care Coordinator.

Schoeneck fills the bags of food for patients when they come in for their regular check-up.

"We know there's children at home and to know that a mom can't take care of her child, it's very hard." - Maribeth Schoeneck, Upstate Health Care Center

"It's heartbreaking and it's hard to when you hear that, you just want to meet that immediate need," Schoeneck said. The food pantry here is a partnership between the clinic and the Food Bank of Central New York. It is spearheaded by doctors Kaitlin Toomey and Jenica O'Malley. "Sometimes a family may say I have enough food for my kids but I go without because it's more important to feed them," O'Malley said.

Dr. O'Malley says it pulls at her heart when families tell her they do not have enough to eat, but she says it is satisfying to know they are making a difference. "We try not to ask things that we can't do something about. So if we're asking you do you have enough food in your home, we're going to offer you resources to address that," she said.

The Upstate Health Care Center partners with the Food Bank of CNY to offer a food pantry at its office to help serve people who are food insecure (CNYCentral photo)

When patients come in, they are screened for food insecurity. They walk away not only with bags of food but with peace of mind knowing they will have something to put on the table that night. "To me without regular access to food and without regular access to healthy foods, there is no wellness. There is no health. And so we're trying to meet people where they are," Dr. Toomey said.

The team here knows health starts at a young age and can impact kids into adulthood. They say it is crucial to fuel their bodies and their brains from an early age, setting them up for healthier lives one patient at a time. "We are surrounded by pockets of poverty. And we know how much poverty affects you for your whole life," Dr. O'Malley said. "So if you grow up in poverty, you're long-term health outcomes are worse than people who do not grow up in poverty."

We hope you will joins us for our 10th annual Help Fight Hunger telethon on Thursday, January 26. CNYCentral is once again teaming up with the Food Bank of CNY, CXtec and Cumulus Media to help fight hunger in our community.

One in 8 people are food insecure and does not know where their next meal will come from. Every dollar donated with supply 3 meals to local families in need. The phones will be open from 5am-8pm.

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