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Food Is Medicine Coalition
Project Open Hand CEO Mark Ryle (at far right) with a California contingency of Food Is Medicine Coalition members advocating at the State Capitol in Sacramento.
By Mark A. Ryle, LCSW CEO

SACRAMENTO — The numbers are daunting. An $800 billion cut from Medicaid… a $192 billion slash in nutritional assistance… and a $222 million cut in chronic disease prevention programs… just to name a few. There’s no question that the $4.1 trillion budget proposal unveiled by the President today cuts deeply and directly into the health and wellbeing of the urban poor and those most in need. But while the partisan politics and posturing plays out in Washington, there is one equation that continues to add up here at Project Open Hand.

Food = Medicine.

It’s the common denominator that’s bringing together a force of nutrition service providers, state legislators and medical researchers – all at the ready to advocate for the most vulnerable members of our community. Project Open Hand is a proud founding partner of the Food Is Medicine Coalition (FIMC), an advocacy group of nonprofit food and nutrition service providers. The FIMC advances public policy that supports access to food and nutrition services for people with severe and or chronic illnesses.

This week I’ve had the honor to work alongside a California contingency of the FIMC group that’s meeting with state legislators in Sacramento. Our group includes representatives from Health Trust in San Jose, Mama’s Kitchen in San Diego, Project Angel Food in Los Angeles, Food For Thought in Forestville, and Ceres Community Project in Sebastopol. Together, we’re urging our state senate and assembly members to fund the Medi-Cal Medically Tailored Meals Pilot Program in the upcoming state budget.

California State Assemblymember David Chiu is among those who strongly supports funding for medically tailored meals, and even sponsored the budget ask in the state assembly subcommittee in support of food as medicine. Alongside him was Assemblymember Blanca E. Rubio (District 48, Baldwin Park -D), among others who testified.

                         California State Assemblymember Blanca E. Rubio (District 48, Baldwin Park -D) strongly supports funding for medically tailored meals, citing cost savings.California State Assemblymember David Chiu testifying on behalf of FIMC before state assembly subcommittee.

Together, we're finding a need to overcome a common misperception that enough nutrition resources are already available to the sick and elderly through existing programs. Many of the 20,000 clients, who collectively benefit from FIMC services providers in California, rely on some form of social security income, which often disqualifies them for other benefits such as Calfresh food stamps.

News of additional cuts is especially worrisome and threatening to the critically ill clients. 

They have nowhere else to turn.

And these folks turn to Project Open Hand and our partners because our system works. Research, like our recent Food = Medicine Pilot Study with UCSF, shows that Project Open Hand’s medically tailored meals improve an individual’s health and wellbeing. 

“Project Open Hand’s food is the best medicine for my diabetes,” says Rossie, a resident of San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood and Food = Medicine Pilot study participant. Rossie’s A1C count decreased from 12% to 8% after receiving our medically tailored meals. Each day she gets healthier.

And then there’s Mark, a critically ill Gulf War veteran, who was referred to Project Open Hand in 2010 through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. At the time, Mark was on the brink of homelessness. After regularly picking up healthy groceries from our Grocery Center and consulting with one of our registered dieticians, Mark medically tailored his diet to grow back to his healthy soldier self. He's now helping others as a registered nurse with V.A. hospital.

Like our clients who have the courage to fight critical illnesses, Project Open Hand will continue to fight for our clients with a pledge to reinforce our commitment to serving the most marginalized citizens in our community. Please join us in our fight to provide healthy and nutritious food to the critically ill neighbors and seniors in our community by donating to Project Open Hand today.

Let congress know that you believe in Food as Medicine and that you support funding for medically tailored meals.

Mark A. Ryle, LCSW, is Project Open Hand’s Chief Executive Officer. Ryle leads California’s largest and most iconic nutrition agency serving more than 8,600 clients in the Bay Area. He spent the first 25 years of his career in corporate finance and private equity before he found his calling in social work. 


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