Home > Blog > Project Open Hand Team Presents at National Food Is Medicine Coalition Symposium
By Kimberly Kollwitz, Manager of Marketing and Communications

Recently, members from Project Open Hand’s Programs team presented at the national Food is Medicine Coalition (FIMC) symposium about our work on two exciting initiatives: Project Age Well and the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP). 

The Food is Medicine Coalition’s national symposium convenes thought leaders, specialists, and agencies who serve medically tailored food and nutrition services to discuss best practices in advocacy, research, and programming for coalition members.  

Erika Tribett, Manager of Program Design at Project Open Hand, said that the symposium is a unique opportunity to share the work our organization is doing, as well as to be able to share the effective design, outcomes, and strategies with other organizations considering similar programming. 

“The success of the ‘Food is Medicine’ movement depends on organizations like ours sharing effective strategies and addressing challenges together,” Tribett says. “The symposium is not only an opportunity to network with other organizations, but also to learn from what’s already being done and renew the energy of folks within the movement to advocate for our programming at a national level.” 

Topics covered at the symposium included best practices on sustainable procurement of produce, use of telehealth for services, improving equity in service reach and approach, and more. 

“It’s a great opportunity to coordinate on addressing the challenges that folks are seeing across the board,” said Tribett. “This is a space for us to network to pursue our common goals, evaluate our interventions, and pilot ideas. At the symposium this year, for example, we had the opportunity to present about both telehealth and produce prescription models alongside fellow FIMC organizations, Open Hand Atlanta and Ceres Community Project. This is one way we can build on synergies in providing the most impactful services possible for the communities we serve.”  

Project Age Well  

In 2020, Project Open Hand was awarded three years of funding through the Administration for Community Living (ACL) to improve nutrition security, foster social connection, and build the knowledge and skills essential to support healthy aging in socially isolated older adults living in San Francisco, Alameda and Sonoma counties.  

The program, “Project Age Well,” provides social, educational, and counseling opportunities for older adults who may be isolated through telehealth, as well as providing weekly meals and groceries. It includes 16 weeks (about 3 and a half months) of interactive, virtual small group nutrition and wellness classes, as well as individual sessions via Zoom or phone with a Nutritionist and Care Coordinator. 

Partnering with fellow California FIMC agency, Ceres Community Project, Project Open Hand was able to expand our reach to Sonoma County and collaborate to deepen services for clients. 

Clients who participate in the program are looking for social connection in addition to support with their health, including balancing their diets, managing a health condition through food, managing stress and sleep patterns, increasing or maintaining physical activity, or finding more community support or resources for their wellness-related goals. 

98% of program participants surveyed say that they have been satisfied with the program – with 72% of that group citing that they were “Very Satisfied.” Additionally, a majority of participants say that the program has been very helpful in increasing their access to healthy foods, improving their ability to follow nutrition recommendations for their health condition, and improving their overall health.  

Project Open Hand team members presented these statistics to FIMC Symposium attendees along with a number of quotes from program participants in the different categories they rated: 

  • Healthy Eating: “The program made eating healthy seem so simple that there was no reason not to do it.” 

  • Motivation: “This [program] gave me the motivation to reach out to my friends and be more social... and gave me a lot of ideas to improve my mobility.” 

  • General: “It got me back on track. [sic] I think it’s a great program. I’m just hoping you’re funded for more counties. If you ever come back to Union City, I have a lot of seniors who would benefit from it!” 

Today, Project Open Hand continues to offer bi-weekly virtual gatherings for alumni of the program and is working to integrate aspects of this pilot into services for additional client populations. 

Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) 

The major goals of the GusNIP produce prescription program at Project Open Hand are to increase access to and intake of high quality, California-grown, culturally appropriate produce to improve the health of our clients. With this federally funded grant, Project Open Hand has developed a pilot program in partnership with the University of California – San Francisco to evaluate the impact of providing weekly grocery packages that include fruit, vegetables and herbs purchased from local farms on the dietary intake and health of clients and the economic impact of the community investment for local farmers.   

This grant allows our organization to purchase fresh produce, and the funding provides us with the opportunity to offer a wider variety of more culturally appropriate fruit, vegetables and herbs and to strengthen local, equitable food systems through sourcing from regional farms and those led by BIPOC farmers. The produce selections are informed, in large part, by the preferences expressed by clients in a survey conducted in early 2023 and by conversation taking place at regular Town Halls.  

In the first six months of the program’s launch, Project Open Hand has purchased $113K worth of California-grown produce, with 65% of this sourced within 150 miles of our grocery centers. Sixty-five percent of these fruit, vegetables and herbs are organically grown, and 80% comes from BIPOC-led farms.  

This program has allowed Project Open Hand to purchase produce like avocados, cilantros, shitake and cremini mushrooms, pomegranates, garlic, and more, that clients have requested for many years: “The produce has been wonderful lately,” said one Project Open Hand client. “I was excited to receive melon, garlic, and strawberries!” 

In addition to the produce, Project Open Hand clients receive emails and educational materials that describe the new GusNIP fruits and vegetables and brochures with ideas on how to use them. 


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