AmeriHealth Caritas Pennsylvania Launches Initiative to Increase Access to Fresh Produce

Partners with local community groups to address food insecurity in underserved communities

June 2, 2022 - Harrisburg, Pa.

Harrisburg, Pa. — As families continue to struggle with the rising costs of healthy foods caused by inflation, AmeriHealth Caritas Pennsylvania, a Medical Assistance (Medicaid) managed care plan serving central and northwestern Pennsylvania and part of the AmeriHealth Caritas Family of Companies, is partnering with community-based organizations to provide fresh produce to underserved communities at no cost.

For the past seven years, AmeriHealth Caritas Pennsylvania has sponsored local community gardens to cultivate and provide fresh produce for low-income residents who qualify and rely upon food banks for their basic food needs. In many urban and rural communities, residents live far from a store or supermarket and lack transportation to do their grocery shopping. Food shortages and soaring prices caused by inflation have exacerbated the effects of food insecurity in underserved communities.

“Our community garden initiative is a strategic partnership between our organization and community groups that are committed to creating healthier communities,” said AmeriHealth Caritas Pennsylvania Market President Marge Angello, who is also a registered nurse. “To help our members achieve healthy outcomes, we must address the social and economic barriers to good health, and that includes food insecurity.”

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) describes areas that are lacking grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers as “food deserts.” Food insecurity, or the lack of reliable access to affordable, nutritious food, has an adverse effect on health outcomes. People are left to depend on local convenience stores, fast food chains, and take-out restaurants that serve mostly processed, sweetened, and fried foods that are known contributors to obesity, diabetes, hypertension and chronic kidney disease.

Food insecurity rates were highest among households with incomes below the poverty line (34.9%) and single-mother households (28.7%). Latino or Hispanic and Black households experienced food insecurity rates of 15.6% and 19.1%, respectively — disproportionately higher than white households (7.9%).1

“During the pandemic, we saw a rush of families to local food banks and pantries because some foods were unavailable and unaffordable,” Angello said. “While our community garden initiative cannot completely replenish every local food bank, it can help support our community partners’ efforts to provide fresh produce to needy families and local soup kitchens.”

Angello said there are also a few gardens at local Head Start and daycare facilities to provide opportunities to teach children the importance of healthy eating.

1Beyond ‘food deserts’: America needs a new approach to mapping food insecurity.