St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor receives $410,000 grant to assist youth with food insecurity

ANN ARBOR – St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor is launching Nutrition Buddies, a pilot program to assist community youth experiencing food insecurity.  The program provides local youth hands-on nutrition education, trains physician residents on how to educate patients about nutrition, and encourages both doctors and youth to adopt healthy eating in their lives.  The program is made possible through a grant of $410,000 from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund.

“Addressing food insecurity — a key social influencer of health — is one of St. Joe’s priorities to reduce both hunger and lack of nutritious food options, the latter often contributing to obesity, diabetes and heart disease,” said Alonzo Lewis, president of St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor and St. Joseph Mercy Livingston.  “Developing innovative ways to integrate nutrition into medical treatment will help keep people healthy and reduce preventable disease.”

According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s Healthy People 2020 report, in 2016, 31.6 percent of low-income households in the United States were food insecure.  Additionally, of more than 46,000 people screened by St. Joe’s Ann Arbor to identify social influencers of health, approximately 20 percent of participants reported food insecurity.

The Nutrition Buddies pilot program, which will take place primarily at the St. Joe’s Ann Arbor hospital campus, will serve up to 80 food insecure middle-school students from Washtenaw County and 40 St. Joe’s physician residents over the next two years.

Internal Medicine and Family Medicine physician residents have already begun nutrition and culinary medicine education through monthly conferences and virtual cooking classes featuring recipes from the Tulane University Health Meets Food™ curriculum.  The Nutrition Buddies pilot program at St. Joe’s expands on the Health Meets Food™ instruction, which includes lessons on food as medicine and hands-on training in planting and cooking nutritious foods in ways that taste good, and provides an opportunity to gain first-hand experience sharing their knowledge and caring for at-risk families.

Following training and testing, the residents will join students enrolled in the program.  The Nutrition Buddies program will be provided free-of-charge to students, who will benefit from:

  • Hands-on cooking in St. Joe’s demonstration kitchen: learning how different foods support the body and to confidently prepare them in budget-friendly ways that taste good
  • Hands-on farm science: learning where food comes from and how to grow it
  • One week of summer camp at The Farm at St. Joe’s, free-of-cost
  • And, when needed, treatment and social program referrals to address social influencers of health

“It’s doctors and at-risk kids together – planting, harvesting, preparing, and eating healthy foods right from The Farm at St. Joe’s and other local farms,” explained David Ripple, vice president of Development at Saint Joseph Mercy Health System.  “We are grateful to the Michigan Health Endowment Fund for making this pilot program possible and for allowing us to create a fun and engaging environment where everyone can learn about food as medicine and how to lead healthier lives.”

Additionally, students and their families, as well as residents participating in Nutrition Buddies, will receive a free membership to the St Joe’s Farm Share for 24 weeks. The Farm Share, like a produce subscription service, connects local farmers to local customers.  The Farm collaborates with 18 local farms to offer a wide variety of fresh produce each week.  This program has increased farm revenue and encourages healthy eating.

Become Involved:
Registration for Nutrition Buddies is currently open.  For additional information about the program or enrollment, please contact Allie Babcock, Lifestyle & Culinary Medicine Program coordinator at 734-712-7993 or e-mail  Registration can also be completed online via this registration form.  Placement will be made on a first come, first serve basis.

Amid the evolving COVID-19 situation, the Nutrition Buddies program will continue to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and leadership of St. Joe’s Ann Arbor, as well as all laws and regulations for social distancing and group gatherings.  In the event that cancellation of in-person education is required, COVID-19 contingency plans have been developed to creatively provide learning virtually from home.

About Saint Joseph Mercy Health System

Saint Joseph Mercy Health System (SJMHS) is a health care organization serving seven counties in southeast Michigan including Livingston, Washtenaw, Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Jackson, and Lenawee. It includes 548-bed St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor, 497-bed St. Joseph Mercy Oakland in Pontiac, 304-bed St. Mary Mercy Livonia, 66-bed St. Joseph Mercy Livingston in Howell, and 133-bed St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea.  Combined, the five hospitals are licensed for 1,548 beds, have five outpatient health centers, six urgent care facilities, more than 25 specialty centers; employ more than 15,300 individuals and have a medical staff of nearly 2,700 physicians.   SJMHS has annual operating revenues of about $2 billion and returns about $115 million to its communities annually through charity care and community benefit programs.