Serving Up Inspiration Food For Thought serves up healthy food and love – Community Voice

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Food For Thought (FFT) was founded in 1988 during the AIDS epidemic, originally to help those affected by the virus. I sat down with Ron Karp, Executive Director since 1996, to find out more.

Over the past decade, the organization has evolved to include other programs and populations with a focus on providing healthy foods to help manage the side effects of medications and other illnesses for people in need. The importance of food for overall health is well documented which has led to the expansion of their mission to serve other populations who could benefit throughout the county.

FFT is one of the founding members of the California Food Is Medicine Coalition (CalFIMC), an association of community-based nonprofit organizations providing medically tailored nutrition services in California. When the AIDS epidemic slowed down, they began to serve those with heart conditions, diabetes, and other illnesses where diet plays a crucial role in managing the condition. Karp explains, “Every client we see we do a health assessment, and we figure out based on medical records what illnesses they have and what’s the best diet for them and that is what they get from us. We are primarily a grocery agency, so we provide a selection of foods. We believe there is a lot of dignity in having the choice of what we are eating, and we honor that so they can select from a wide variety of choices in every category that we have. Whether it’s a low-sugar, high-fiber diet for diabetes or a heart-healthy diet for heart conditions, the organization tailors its food offerings to meet the unique requirements of each individual’s illness.”

Through partnerships with community-based hospitals and health centers, Food For Thought receives referrals for clients in need of their services. They also have specialized programs such as The Full Belly program for pregnant women, as well as programs for those with cancer, HIV, and infectious diseases like tuberculosis and long Covid.

Another very important program is the Welcome Home program which services people coming home from the hospital or care facility. Additionally, they have a Bags of Love program for the homeless, providing eleven ready-to-eat meals in a convenient backpack-sized bag. These referrals often come from medical providers after treating someone who goes to the doctor or other agencies FFT partners with.

They continue to work with Face to Face, an HIV program. During the COVID pandemic, Food For Thought stepped up to serve those in isolation with COVID-19, as well as those with other infectious diseases. “The program that started with COVID-19 originated from referrals we were getting from the county with people that were isolated when they had COVID. We served about 6,000 people in 2 years during Covid.”

They have also taken steps to diversify their staff, with Spanish-speaking employees and representation from various communities in the county. Another mission of their agency is working to lower the stigma associated with seeking help. Through outreach efforts and community events, the organization spreads awareness of its services and continues to support those in need. Ron continues, “We have a fundraiser that is a restaurant event, Dining Out For Life where restaurants donate 25-100 percent of their proceeds. The event was started in Philadelphia 30 years ago and is a national event held in over 50 cities in the United States and Canada. This year that event will be held on December 5th.” With over 700 volunteers, Ron concluded “People who want to help are very inspiring to me, there’s a quote in the lobby about there being a spiritual and emotional component to giving away food. That’s what people feel when they are helping.” Food For Thought is a valuable and important asset to residents in Sonoma County.

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