CONNEAUT — Members of the community and University Hospitals staff came together Thursday to celebrate the ribbon cutting of the new UH Conneaut Food for Life Market.

The market opened in May with of helping to resolve food security issues in the area.

Anne Leach, the director of Clinical and Community Nutrition, said before the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity was at its lowest point in 20 years.

“Today, we are seeing food insecurity impact nearly 38 million people, including 12 million children in the United States,” Leach said.

Rural communities are especially hard hit by hunger, she said.

In 2020, Ashtabula County’s food insecurity rate was 15.6 percent, Leach said.

“The Food for Life market focuses on the direct connection between food and a person’s health,” Leach said. “Access to the right kinds of food and incorporating that food into one’s diet can have important beneficial impact on health.”

Mikayla Northup, a registered dietician who works at the market, said people who come into the market are told what is available and can choose from there.

“I’m there to provide education along the way,” Northup said.

In addition to food, Northup said she keeps a variety of recipes that use products available at the market, along with other educational information.

“A lot of people, you give them the food and they don’t know what to do with it,” she said.

Patients can be referred to the market from primary care providers in Ashtabula, Conneaut and Jefferson, and referrals from the ER in Conneaut will be available soon.

“Meeting all these people first-hand is really the best part of the whole entire job,” Northup said.

Jason Glowczewski, Pharm.D., COO of UH Conneaut, thanked the Ashtabula Foundation for helping with the project.

Glowczewski said, as a pharmacist, he had patients tell him it felt like medicines were their food, due to the amount of medications they had to take.

“We want to break that cycle, and help patients be well,” Glowczewski said.

Glwoczewski said he is excited about the future of UH Conneaut.

Dr. Dan Simon, president of Academic & External Affairs and Chief Scientific Officer at UH, said it is tremendous to see how the Food for Life program is growing in the system.

“Anywhere from 14 to 16 percent of the patients that we treat actually are food insecure,” Simon said. “And that has a great impact on their healthcare, because they make choices. ‘Am I going to eat, or am I going to be compliant with my medication regimen?’ and so we really want them to be able to do both.”

Cheryle Chiaramonte, a member of the Ashtabula Foundation Board of Directors, said being able to provide healthy food to patients is a wonderful thing.

“The foundation is always looking for ways that we can provide a better Ashtabula County,” Chiaramonte said.

Dr. Lena Grafton, regional program manager for UH’s east market hospitals, said UH asked neighboring communities how the system could be most helpful.

“Food for Life is the one way that our community responded,” Grafton said.

She said UH is committed to its communities.

Dr. Celina Cunanan, executive director of UH’s office of community impact, diversity, equity and inclusion, said UH understands health begins in the home, and nearly 20 percent of Conneaut residents live at or near the poverty line.

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