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A local landmark will soon find new use as a pillar to service within the community.

FISH Community Food Bank is in the process of finalizing a lease agreement with the owners of Rodeo City Bar-B-Q to use the facility as a location to produce food for its social service programs.

FISH Director Peggy Morache said the location is perfect for the organization due to the existing commercial kitchen and centralized location. As COVID restrictions continue to ease, she said they plan on using the dining area in the building for their congregate meals for seniors. The organization had previously been using kitchen facilities at Cavalry Baptist Church, not having the ability to develop a commercial kitchen at their Elmview Road facility. Once they learned that the family who owns Rodeo City was interested in working out a lease, Morache said the organization jumped into action.

“We went to them and talked about initially a lease with them, with the intention of making it more permanent,” she said. “We will start cooking in there Wednesday, and eventually will run all of our food production programs out of there.”

The first goal for the organization, however, is to use the facility to produce meals for a new pilot project it is rolling out in conjunction with Community Health of Central Washington and the Kittitas County Public Health Department.

The pilot project, called Food as Medicine is being rolled out due to an opportunity grant received by FISH from Molina Healthcare. Morache said her organization received the grant and began the planning and implementation process with the intention of starting the program prior to the pandemic.

“Since all of our partners were in health care and because we were an essential service, we were open,” she said. “Nobody had time do worry with it, so we went to Molina and said we were going to put it on hold. We have started up again, and we are now ready to begin this program. Our goal is to get it out this month.”

Morache said the food bank has hired a new executive chef to aid the ramp up in production for the program. Patients will be identified through their care at CHCW, honing in on issues including hypertension and diabetes. If the patients are interested in the program, Morache said they will receive two meals a day for the pilot program, which lasts 12 weeks. Two groups of 19 patients each will participate in the pilot.

“We’ll do baseline studies along with Community and Public Health,” she said. “We will check outcomes at the end of the 12 weeks. That’s the information we will use to go back to Molina Healthcare with.”

Morache said communities that have adopted the model have seen a reduction in emergency room visits, along with better health outcomes for participants and lower overall health care costs for the community.

“We’re really excited about introducing this pilot to Kittitas County,” she said.

After the extensive search for a new location to produce food out of, Morache said she truly believes they have finally found the perfect spot to fulfill their mission.

“That’s what has happened here,” she said. “Rodeo City is turnkey for us, and that’s just ideal. We don’t have to go into this building to spend $1 million to make this kitchen right. We intend to honor the legacy that the Craigs and Leann have brought to that building. It is an iconic business in this community, and we are just honored to be there and honor them in various ways to keep that feel of Rodeo City going.”

FOUNDATIONS FOR SUCCESS

Dr. Kevin Walsh of Community Health of Central Washington said the three partners comprise the Kittitas County Health Network, a group formed with the intention of conducting collaborative efforts that one agency could not pull off alone.

“To me, this is a perfect example of that collaboration,” he said.

Walsh said the program is designed to target patients who are adversely affected by what are referred to as social determinants of health. Determinants include access to quality food, as well as job and housing stability.

“All those things have huge impacts on our health,” he said. “Probably more impact than the health care we provide overall. If I have a patient that has diabetes and they are on two or three medications, we know them eating a healthy diet and being physically active has a huge impact on their diabetes. If they are challenged by housing or other instabilities, it affects their ability to follow my recommendations.”

Walsh said giving patients who struggle with other issues in their lives a hand in achieving positive preventative outcomes helps lessen the impact on health care needs in the future.

“If we can identify people who have food insecurity and provide them with food, we’re probably going to impact their health outcomes down the road,” he said. “If we can provide them with some nutrition counseling and show them how to make healthier food, and then provide that healthier food to them, we’re theoretically providing more benefit to them. Our hoped-for outcomes in this program are improvement in their measures of chronic disease, and a decreasing their needs for hospitalization and the emergency room in the long term because they don’t need to access those expensive forms of health care as often.”

Walsh said efforts are already in place to work on grants to expand the process on a larger scope throughout the county, as well as instilling it among the regiment of regularly available programs to patients once the pilot phase of the program is completed with success.

“The health care providers and clinical staff who I work with, everybody is wildly excited about participating in this program,” he said. “There’s a very concrete benefit to our patients at very little effort on our part. This is a big win as far as we are concerned, and we’re really excited to be part of it.”

Reporting for the DR since March 2018. Lover of campfires, black labs and good vibes. Proud Humboldt State alum!

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