The Sonoma County Gazette: Community News Magazine
Sonoma County Gazette
| more

Redwood Empire Food Bank’s Project Helps Those Hardest Hit by Diabetes

Redwood Empire Food Bank’s Project Helps Those
Hardest Hit by Diabetes

By Miriam Hodgman

The Redwood Empire Food Bank (REFB) is implementing an $800,000 grant from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation to help communities disproportionately affected by type 2 diabetes. The REFB was one of 3 food banks in the nation selected to receive funding.

Feeding America, the national network of food banks to which the REFB belongs, facilitated the grant. The grant includes participation in a groundbreaking study to determine the project’s impact to help low-income, food insecure individuals manage type 2 diabetes.

The goal of the REFB’s Diabetes Wellness Project is to improve the health of low-income adults living with type 2 diabetes.  The Project provides 23-pound monthly food boxes with healthy staple foods and produce, delivers diabetes self-management education materials, conducts diabetes risk screenings at food distribution sites, and maintains partnerships with community health organizations.

To date, the REFB has enrolled over 150 adults into the project. Its goal is to reach 400 participants by the end of the three-year study. It has also conducted over 440 blood sugar risk screening tests, and received 74 patient referrals from clinic partners. The REFB is now one of only two food banks in the country with a Registered Nurse on staff.

The REFB has forged alliances with 7 Sonoma County healthcare providers including St. Joseph Health System’s Mobile Health Clinic, Vista Family Health Center, Alliance Medical Center, Petaluma Health Clinic, West County Health Services, Sonoma County Indian Health, and Redwood Coast Medical Services, based in Gualala. Partners identify clients with diabetes who are also food insecure, and refer them to the Food Bank. In turn, the REFB refers Food Bank clients, not receiving primary medical care, to appropriate healthcare partners.

The Project serves participants in Cloverdale, Cotati, Gualala, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Sonoma Valley, and Windsor. As part of the grant funding, the REFB purchased and fully outfitted a Diabetes Wellness Project vehicle. This vehicle makes it possible for REFB staff to access remote sites, to comfortably test clients in a private and clean setting, provide education classes, and transport food.

To qualify, participants need only provide documentation of having type 2 diabetes, such as a physician’s letter or prescription, and meet income requirements. Participants can also enroll if they are identified as high risk for diabetes after completing a simple blood test administered by trained REFB staff. After enrollment, participants are encouraged to take part in two surveys and blood sugar testing events spaced six months apart. Results from the surveys and blood tests will help the REFB and Feeding America determine how the project impacts food insecure individuals, assists participants in their diabetes self-management, and improves participants’ access to local healthcare services.

According to a senior participant and grandmother in Santa Rosa, “The educational materials and food have helped me get my blood sugar levels down to acceptable levels.” A second participant explained, “I was a nurse, so I recognized I had the symptoms of diabetes. Recently, I was diagnosed by the St. Joseph Mobile Health Clinic. They connected me to the Food Bank. Not only has my health improved because of this program, but my entire family is eating healthier now by following the example I’m setting. ”

“Santa Rosa Community Health Centers is excited about our collaboration with the REFB’s Diabetes Wellness Project. This grant is an innovative partnership, which will help hundreds of people have access to healthy food and medical care. It is an outstanding opportunity to improve the health of people with type 2 diabetes locally, with national implications,” said Naomi Fuchs, Chief Executive Officer, Santa Rosa Community Health Centers.


For more information about the Redwood Empire Food Bank’s Diabetes Wellness Project and other measures to end hunger in Sonoma County, call the REFB at 707-523-7900.

About Redwood Empire Food Bank - The Redwood Empire Food Bank (REFB), Sonoma County’s largest hunger-relief organization, has been in operation since 1987. The REFB provides food to over 78,000 people every month through its own three Hunger Initiatives and a network of 166 charitable organizations throughout Sonoma County. The REFB also helps smaller food banks and charitable organizations acquire food in Lake, Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties. Over 13 million pounds of food are distributed annually, the equivalent of 28,000 meals each day. For more information, visit

About Feeding America - Feeding America provides low-income individuals and families with the fuel to survive and even thrive. As the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charity, our network members supply food to more than 37 million Americans each year, including 14 million children and 3 million seniors. Serving the entire United States, more than 200 member food banks support 61,000 agencies that address hunger in all of its forms.

About Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation - The Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation is an independent 501(c)(3) charitable organization whose mission is to reduce health disparities and improve health outcomes around the world for people disproportionately affected by serious disease.