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When working to meet the demands of feeding the community, two kitchens are certainly better than one.

FISH Community Food Bank has seen such demand over the past year and has risen to meet it by building a mobile kitchen that was recently completed and delivered to the organization. The kitchen on wheels will help to aid the food bank in rolling out its Food as Medicine program in the coming months.

FISH Director Peggy Morache said the project is being funded through grant funding received last January from Molina Healthcare. When they began to plan out the project, she said they realized they would need a second kitchen to meet the need, due to the number of meals already being produced for the Meals on Wheels and Senior Nutrition programs.

“We started trying to figure out how what would work, because commercial kitchens are very expensive,” she said. “Finding a building for one turned out to be problematic, so we decided to start looking at food trucks that we could adapt into commercial kitchens. More or less a commercial kitchen on wheels.”

Morache said the food bank located a food truck on the West Side and after purchasing it and having it wrapped with the food bank’s logo, they moved it over to Ellensburg to have the kitchen refitted. Unneeded appliances such as deep fryers and rotisseries were removed from the truck and replaced with a convection oven and prep space crucial for the needs of the food bank.

“Now it’s completely outfitted and serviceable as a commercial kitchen,” she said. “It will based at the Elmview Road location, and we did have to add a dish room to one of our buildings out there to accommodate the washing of the pots and keeping all of that clean for the food truck use. It’s been quite a process.”

Morache said the mobile kitchen has already been put to use, preparing lunch for the Kittitas Valley Ministerial Association at its October meeting.

“It was very well received,” she said. “It was a lot of fun to do that.”

PIONEERING PROGRAM

Morache said the mobile kitchen will primarily be stationary and will be utilized almost entirely for the new Food as Medicine program being rolled out by the food bank. Beyond the program, she said the kitchen will be extremely helpful for other events when needed, saying that the kitchen will be utilized at the Kittitas Valley Events Center to aid in the preparation of this year’s Thanksgiving dinner.

Planning and implementation meetings for the Food as Medicine project began last January, and Morache said the food bank was prepared to roll the program out last April. However, the pandemic placed a hold on moving forward with the program at the time.

“Many of our partners are healthcare professionals and we were quite busy due to COVID,” she said. “We suspended it and were only able to start up again in September. There’s been a delay in rolling out the program, but we’re very close. We’re going to do a dry run next week.”

Morache said the food bank will work with Community Health of Central Washington and Kittitas County Public Health Department on the rollout, eventually bringing Central Washington University into the project scope as well. She said doctors at CHCW are beginning to screen their patients for food insecurity, asking patients questions from a toolkit supplied to health care professionals to aid in identifying whether the patients need help in accessing food.

“When they determine there is a need, they will send that information to FISH,” Morache said.

Once the need is determined, Morache said the food bank will reach out to the patients to determine whether they are mobile and able to access the food pantry at the Elmview location. If they aren’t, she said arrangements will be made to deliver the food they need via the mobile pantry.

Morache said the food bank will also receive scripts from doctors at CHCW who have patients in need of food and have health conditions such as diabetes or hypertension. She said the scripts will be for medically tailored meals and medical nutrition therapy.

“At that point, we will prepare 21 meals for these patients who have identified,” she said. “They will be healthy meals that have been developed with our executive chef and a registered dietician. We will begin an evidence-based process to determine the effect on the disease and the education helping people to manage their disease by using better nutrition.”

Morache said the program has been recognized throughout the country and said there is evidence of fewer emergency room visits and impact on the cost in health care when the program is implemented in communities when it is introduced into the health care continuum.

“That’s our goal, is to see it become recognized as part of the entire health care community,” she said.

Being a pilot program, Morache said the scope is relatively small to begin with. Doing so will make the outcomes easier to measure, and she said if success is seen, the program could receive sustained grant funding through Molina Healthcare and other grant funders. Looking ahead at the potential growth of the program, she said the goal could shift from focusing primarily on reactive health to including a focus on preventative nutrition, helping people who have symptoms such as pre-diabetic issues.

“We would work with those people to try to bring their numbers down,” she said. “We could work with them to educate them on the benefits of good nutrition and exercise in fighting the disease.”

Even in its pilot stage, Morache said the beauty of the program is that there is no age limit for patients who qualify.

“This is not a senior program per se,” she said. “If a 30-year old person has been diagnosed with diabetes or has been told they really need to manage their diet around the possibility of becoming diabetic, that person is eligible for the program. We’re really excited about the potential. This could be something that we could grow for years to come and add layers to it that show benefit to all kinds of medical treatment throughout the county.”

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