HAMMOND, Indiana – Northwest Indiana families facing food insecurity will have extra help thanks to a $20,000 grant from Old National Bank Foundation to Franciscan’s Health’s Fresh Start Market and new Food Rx Program.

The Franciscan Health Foundation partnered in 2021 with the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana to create a three-phase Food Insecurity Program to address food insecurity across the region.

Franciscan Health Foundation Director of Development MinDee Richard said the expansion of the Food Insecurity Program would not be possible without the financial support from Old National Bank Foundation.

“The program will directly partner with vulnerable populations to provide them with access to affordable, nutritious food, which is a driving concern for both Franciscan Health and Old National Bank Foundation,” Richard said.

Phase 1 is the Mobile Markets, which provide food to those in need with drive-through events at Franciscan Health hospitals year-round.

Phase II is the Fresh Start Markets at 5454 Hohman Ave. in Hammond and the Franciscan Physician Network St. Clare Health Center in Crown Point at 1121 S. Indiana Ave. The healthy food bodegas allow those in need to shop free of charge. Since its opening in October, the Hammond Fresh Start Market has served 294 individuals and 92 households.

In addition to supplying food, the bodegas work to identify the underlying causes and health implications of food insecurity with education, nutrition and recipes.

Phase III is the new Food Rx Program, which allows low-income individuals and their families — identified through the programs at the Fresh Start Markets, screenings and referrals — to receive additional, specific foods to meet their individual health needs. The program applies to patients with a diabetic A1C score higher than 7 and patients with comorbidities such as congestive heart failure and high blood pressure who also have moderate to severe food insecurity.

“Being diabetic and hypertensive, I recognize the need to eat appropriately and manage my health status,” Ibrahim Zabaneh, MD, vice president of medical affairs for Franciscan Health Hammond, Dyer and Munster said. “We need to utilize food to manage our chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, celiac disease, congestive heart failure and other chronic diseases.”

Patients must agree to participate in a diabetic education program, meet regularly with their food insecurity case manager, undergo follow-up diabetic and blood pressure checks, complete regular weigh-ins and receive weekly supplements of doctor-approved healthy food for six months.

Monica Rubio, vice president and community market manager for Old National Bank, said the partnership with Franciscan Health began with employees volunteering at the Mobile Markets and grew from there.

“Our managers and supervisors who came out all said it just really tugged at their heartstrings,” Rubio said. “It showed us how much support is needed in the community. When the opportunity came about to apply for a higher grant, all the pieces fell into line.”

Franciscan Health Hammond, Dyer and Munster Interim President and CEO Barbara Anderson praised Old National Bank Foundation for their Franciscan spirit of compassionate concern and Christian stewardship.

“They are just a generous partner and we’re thankful for them,” Anderson said.

The Fresh Start Market at 5454 Hohman Ave. in Hammond is open the second Wednesday of the month from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and the fourth Wednesday of the month from 3-6 p.m. Enter at the Women’s Specialty and Dialysis Center entrance.

More information on how to contribute to support the Fresh Start Market is available at FranciscanHealthFoundation.org or by calling the Franciscan Health Foundation at (219) 661-3401.

For more information on the Fresh Start Markets and Food Rx Program, call (219) 407-6948.