Southold’s Center for Advocacy, Support and Transformation is partnering with Stony Brook East Long Island Hospital in Greenport to address health inequities and food insecurity.

The Food as Medicine program connects eligible hospital patients to CAST, giving them access to the nonprofit’s food pantry and other services. The collaboration is part of an effort by hospitals across the country to improve health equity in their communities.

“This initiative is not just about food access, it’s about health interventions,” said Karina Hayes, CAST Food Relief Program Manager.

Executive Director Cathy Demeroto said the initiative aims to address and prevent chronic health issues among CAST clients and communities.

“We want to ensure that the nutrition provided through our food relief programs not only addresses immediate hunger and food insecurity, but also prevents or helps our customers develop any chronic diseases,” Ms. DeMerotto said.

Every SBELIH patient is screened for food insecurity and, if deemed at risk, upon discharge receives a bag of food from the hospital’s pantry.

When a patient is determined to be food insecure, the hospital social worker and case manager will complete the referral to CAST. From there, CAST contacts individuals, completes admissions screenings, and connects them with its many services.

In addition to a well-stocked pantry, CAST offers transportation assistance and seasonal events such as a fall school supply drive, a summer child feeding program and a pre-Christmas toy drive. They will also have the opportunity to participate in the organization’s education and outreach programs, which include English as a second language classes, computer training and workforce connections upon return to the community.

“We know that social risk factors can negatively impact a person’s health, including worse health outcomes and longer hospital stays,” said Tara Kraemer, vice president of quality and regulatory affairs at SBELIH. “As healthcare professionals, we do have a responsibility to address these social determinants of health.”

CAST has also launched a new program for customers with dietary requirements or restrictions due to conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure. On the shelves of its impressive pantry, which resembles a small grocery store, customers will find items with color-coded labels to indicate low-sugar, low-sodium, and low-cholesterol options.

To further develop the program, CAST is partnering with the Suffolk County Cornell Cooperative Extension, which will provide a nutritionist and conduct bilingual workshops on healthy eating and managing chronic health issues through food.

“Not only will we be offering nutrition and healthy lifestyle advice to combat the rise in diabetes and heart disease, but also recipes and food tastings using CAST pantry items,” said Karen Ball, CCE Senior Dietitian. “CCE Suffolk looks forward to Help our neighbors in our community make the healthiest choices for themselves and their families.”

Ms. DeMerotto said CAST currently serves 2,822 customers, about 10 percent of the town of Southold’s population, about 50 of whom have special dietary needs.

Ms. Kramer noted that the hospital will be reaching out to other community organizations to help support the initiative.

“When it comes to health equity and social determinants of health, food-as-drug programs are just one facet of the equation, and we continue to work to address other determinants of health,” she said.

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