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From Produce Prescriptions to Healthy Retail: An Update from REACH
The PRCHN's REACH Fellows spent much of fall 2015 training the first cohort of Community Health Ambassadors (CHA) from East Cleveland and the Glenville and South Collinwood neighborhoods of Cleveland to be active movers of change in their communities. A second cohort of Community Health Ambassadors, from the Union-Miles, St. Clair-Superior, Hough, and Central neighborhoods, recently completed their training. Using the team name “Creating Greater Destinies,’ the two cohorts are working as one to affect positive change in their respective neighborhoods.

Community Health Ambassadors Michael Martin, Dolores Collins, and Mark McClain at the Coit Road Farmers' Market.
These individuals have a number of opportunities to continue their CHA work in the REACH target communities. One such opportunity is as a resident expert at the Coit Road Farmers’ Market in East Cleveland. Three Ambassadors will work as a resource to market goers, providing support for participants in the Produce Prescription Program (PRx), which launched July 1 in six community health clinics across Cleveland and East Cleveland.

The PRCHN’s PRx program is working to help food-insecure residents in low-resource neighborhoods who have hypertension manage that condition by:
  • * fostering healthier eating habits through partnerships between community health clinics and farmers’ markets, 
  • * providing economic incentives and nutritional education to encourage participants to make healthy food choices, and 
  • * increasing the use of farmers’ markets.
The community health clinics participating in the PRx program include three Northeast Ohio Neighborhood Health Services (NEON) clinics in Hough, Collinwood, and East Cleveland as well as Care Alliance Health Center in Central, Stephanie Tubbs Jones (part of Cleveland Clinic) in East Cleveland, and St. Vincent (part of St. Vincent Charity Hospital) in Central. Each of these are designated as “safety net” clinics because more than 30% of their patients qualify for Medicaid. A total of 450 patients will be recruited for the three-month PRx program.

PRx participants receive vouchers for use at local farmers’ markets so that choosing fresh vegetables or fruits is an economically feasible choice. The Gateway 105 Farmers Market has added a market at the NEON Hough clinic, and the Bridgeport fresh produce mobile van will stop twice a week at Care Alliance clinic, making it easy for PRx participants to use those vouchers.

In addition to helping PRx participants who shop at the Coit Road Farmer’s Market, the Community Health Ambassadors will answer general questions regarding healthy eating/cooking resources or the double-value Produce Perks program (sponsored by the Food Policy Coalition), distribute literature on healthy eating and active living resources in East Cleveland, and promote attendance at local Chronic Disease Self-Management workshops.
Community Health Ambassadors Hank Smith and Timia Reed, PRCHN interns Jennifer Roberts and Briana Walker, and Juan Vila from the Food Trust.
The REACH grant has also hired two Ambassadors to work alongside two summer interns from the PRCHN to assess and recruit stores for the Healthy Retail Initiative. Kakul Joshi, the REACH Strategy Coordinator states that “It’s crucial for residents to be involved in the process because we can draw upon their intimate knowledge of their own community. They provide the voice of the community and can help convince store owners that the communities they serve do want healthier food alternatives.”

Joshi notes that the Healthy Retail Initiative has already signed Memos of Understanding with two corner stores in the Central neighborhood. The Healthy Retail Ambassadors and interns will complete a baseline inventory at each store. Based on the information gathered, the PRCHN will make recommendations to bring in healthy food items that the store owner feels confident he/she could sell. While the initial focus is on adding fresh fruits and vegetables to a store’s inventory, other offerings might include whole grain products (breads and pasta), low-fat dairy products, low-sodium canned vegetables, or fruits in 100% juice or light syrup.

The Community Health Ambassadors undergird every aspect of the REACH grant. Whether answering questions at a farmers’ market or working with local store owners, their presence is the heart of the PRCHN’s community-based research.
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