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Food insecurity affects approximately 12% of Americans everyday. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic this number has increased drastically and has heavily impacted vulnerable populations who are food insecure. Safe access to healthy foods during the pandemic has been increasingly challenging especially for those who also lack safe transportation. The impact of food insecurity on clients with severe mental illness during a pandemic can have devastating effects on an individual’s physical health, mental health, and overall quality of life. In early 2020, the UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health created several COVID-19 Outreach Programs to assist their clients. Chief among them is the Heat and Eat Meals program. Every week, CECMH team members safely deliver meals to selected high risk clients so they can avoid crowded food pantries and soup kitchens.

In an effort to support the most vulnerable in safely having access to quality and nutritious meals during COVID-19, the CECMH partnered with Breakaway Café, a local restaurant in Chapel Hill that uses food from ethical sources and the Farm at Penny Lane, the CECMH alternative recovery facility. Breakaway agreed to prepare and provide the meals at cost, while the Farm supplies fresh fruits and produce. The Heat and Eat Meals program looks to serve clients with severe mental illness who have at least 2 health risk factors; individuals with a fixed income or no income and who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. By providing these individuals access to healthy food when and where they most need it, the CECMH can try to decrease risk of exposure to COVID-19 by limiting use of public transport and provide the nutritional sustenance they need to prevent/fight off infection.

In January 2021, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars award the Heat and Eat Meal team $10,000. The program will be able to expand with this funding, and clients in Chatham, Orange, and Wake counties will have the opportunity to benefit from this unique program. For more information on the Heat and Eat Meals, please contact the program coordinator, Thava Mahadevan.

If you would like to support Heat and Eat Meals, please donate today.