Over the course of 21 days, 60 patients with diabetes will receive free, plant-based catered meals followed by continued nutrition and wellness programs thanks to a CVS Foundation Health Grant for $35,000. The patients, all of whom receive care from 501(c)(3) specialty care service Volunteers in Medicine Chattanooga, do not have health insurance or access to other programs to manage their diabetes, said VIM Executive Director Ashley Evans.
Nutrition plays a major role in diabetes prevention and treatment, but the nonprofit has never before been able to offer such a service to get patients going with new, healthier dietary programs, Evans said.
The 21-day vegan food program, provided by a company called PlantPure Nation, is not meant to be a long-term solution to the diet changes needed to manage diabetes, said Evans. Rather, it is meant to show that plant-based foods vary wildly and extend far beyond salads. Then, she said, the program will transition participants to cooking on their own and incorporating fresh produce, as well as interesting recipes.
"I don't expect people to become and stay vegan," she said. "I just hope they get enough results to see that their nutrition plays an important role."
Following the three-week program, all program participants will also learn how to make eating healthily a cost-effective option. For example, an inexpensive option to ensure more fruits and vegetables are being consumed is selecting canned or frozen versions, though it's important to read labels to ensure there are no harmful additives, and the Greater Chattanooga Area Food Bank offers a free produce program.
"It's all feeding into and acknowledging a pattern of not taking enough time to take care of themselves," Evans said of the education being offered to program participants.
According to the American Diabetes Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is estimated 30 percent of Americans have diabetes, with an additional 1.4 million new diagnoses each year.
Though the program will only be able to feed 60 patients, who will be selected from the VIM's current 108 diabetes patients, all of the center's diabetes patients and any diagnosed in the future are welcome to participate in the educational components of the program, Evans said.
The program start date had not been determined as of press time.
For more information about Volunteers in Medicine's free services — which are provided by qualified and licensed medical practitioners who volunteer their services — or to donate, visit vim-chatt.org.