Care Cupboard Rises to Combat Food Insecurity in Douglas County

According to Feeding America’s most recent study, approximately 13,900 people in Douglas County regularly experience food insecurity. Food insecurity is defined by the USDA as the lack of access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Food insecurity is associated with adverse social and health outcomes. 

Heartland Community Health Center, in partnership with Just Food, provides an on-site food pantry called the Care Cupboard. The Care Cupboard supports individuals and families as they improve their health with regular access to nutritious foods and nutritional support. In 2022, Heartland’s Care Cupboard Served 4,996 Households, representing more than 9,000 unique individuals. 

After participants provide basic information and are verified through Just Food, they are allotted points to spend at the Care Cupboard on the foods and/or hygiene products they need for their family. Participants are free to shop using the Care Cupboard’s grocery carts or baskets and select their own items. 

“The Care Cupboard’s goal is to provide participants with a dignified shopping experience,” said Karen Lewis, Care Cupboard Coordinator. “When preparing to open our new location, we thoughtfully planned ways to provide participants with choices and make the Care Cupboard feel more like a grocery store than a food pantry.”

Last year, the Care Cupboard received more than 7,800 pounds of direct food donations from the community. A team of 14 volunteers gave 888 hours of their time to ensure the Care Cupboard’s success. These hours are in addition to the time served by our members of the AmeriCorps program. 

“Providing food and support for the 9,000 people we served this year was a tremendous undertaking and could not have been accomplished if not for an entire team of employees, volunteers, and community members,” said Lewis. “We are incredibly thankful for the individual donations and community food drives that enabled us to give Care Cupboard shoppers a variety of healthy eating options.”

Anyone can experience food insecurity. A study by the University of Missouri Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security shows that of the Kansas households that use food banks, 60% have at least one working adult, 34% have at least one person who is working full-time. Forty-one percent of these households choose between paying for food or medicine and medical care within the last year, and 49% choose between paying for food and utilities. 

“No one should have to choose between feeding their family and receiving the health care they need,” said Julie Branstrom, Heartland’s Chief Executive Officer. “We know access to affordable health care and healthy food is critical to the overall health of the individual, and the community at large. This is why in addition to our Care Cupboard food pantry, medication discounts at River City Pharmacy, and sliding fee-scales for medical services, we also launched our Food is Medicine program in 2022.”

In collaboration with Harvesters, Heartland’s Food is Medicine Program offers monthly classes the first Wednesday of each month. These classes are open to the public and provide education on nutrition, food preparation, and the ways healthy eating is connected to overall health. Participants in the program are given recipes, access to healthy ingredients at the Care Cupboard, and other resources designed to educate and improve eating habits. 

Access to healthy foods is one of many important social determinants of health. Social determinants of health are environmental conditions that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality of life outcomes. These factors contribute to health disparities and inequities. 

SDOHs can often be connected. For example, people who do not have adequate housing, transportation, education, and income are less likely to have access to healthy foods. People who do not have consistent access to healthy foods are more at risk of health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

Food is Medicine is just one of Heartland’s programs aimed at improving social determinates of health. Heartland’s integrated approach to health care gives patients the ability to access primary care, mental health & substance use disorder treatment, dental care, affordable medication, and wrap-around services under one-roof.  

Additional services include insurance and Medicaid eligibility assistance, medical case management, Early Detection Works (cervical & breast cancer screenings), Healthy Futures mobile pediatric dental clinic, domestic violence screening, and additional social work services. 

Learn About Integrated Care at Heartland. 

“The Care Cupboard’s goal is to provide participants with a dignified shopping experience…” 

4,996 Households

Number of households utilizing the Care Cupboard in 2022. 

9,000 People

More than 9,000 unique individuals accessed healthy foods at the Care Cupboard last year. 

7,800 lbs

In 2022, the Care Cupboard received more than 7,800 pounds of food donations from the community. 


Forty-nine percent of Kansas households that use food banks report having to choose between paying for food and paying for utilities. 

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