Food Connections Program at Swedish Hospital: Food as Medicine in Healthcare Spotlight

by Marissa Sheldon, MPH

What they do: The Food Connections Program at Swedish Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, aims to reduce food insecurity and remove food access as a barrier to health among patients, staff, and community members. There are multiple initiatives that operate within the program:

  1. Food Package at Discharge provides food-insecure patients with a bag of non-perishable food items when they are discharged from the hospital. Patients also receive information about community resources such as Link (SNAP), WIC, Meals on Wheels, or a local food pantry to help with long-term food access. 
  2. Veggies for Health is an eight-week nutrition education program open to food-insecure community members who have been diagnosed with a diet-related disease (e.g. diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease). After each weekly session, participants receive a bag of local produce, and at the end of the program, they visit the Friendship Center food pantry and are registered to receive monthly food distributions.  
  3. The Cupboards are no-questions-asked pantries located within Swedish Hospital that are open 24/7 to patients, staff, and community members. The Cupboards provide free fresh and non-perishable food items and personal hygiene supplies.
  4. Star Farm Pop-up Market is a year-round local farm stand at the hospital for employees and community members. Customers can use cash, credit, Apple Pay, and Link to purchase locally-grown produce and groceries such as eggs, bread, and tamales. 
  5. The Farm, the most recent initiative of Food Connections, is a community garden located across the street from the main hospital that is exclusively for hospital employees. Employees can take home produce from the garden, and excess produce will be used to stock the onsite Cupboards.

How they do it: 

  1. Inpatients and outpatients are screened for food insecurity using the 2-item Hunger Vital Sign Survey. If a patient answers “sometimes” or “often” to either question, they are referred to a member of the Food Connections team and offered a food package to take home. Food packages are provided by Nourishing Hope’s Health and Hope program. 
  2. Veggies for Health is a free program run by a Registered Dietitian at Swedish Hospital and the Swedish Hospital Community Wellness Center. Patients can be referred to the program by their physician or dietitian. Produce bags are provided by Forty Acres Fresh Market.  
  3. Food items and hygiene products are donated to the Cupboard by community organizations, hospital employees, and community members. Employees are encouraged to limit their selections to five items per day. 
  4. Star Farm sets up a pop-up market outdoors in the hospital’s healing garden twice a month from June to October and inside the hospital once a month during the winter. 
  5. A team of hospital employees worked together in the spring of 2023 to prepare the garden for The Farm in the space formerly used by the Peterson Garden Project (which ended due to pandemic disruptions and lack of funding). Employees interested in using the garden must first take an online training course. Upon completion, they receive the gate code to access The Farm and harvest produce at their convenience. Weeding and planting days, carried out by hospital employees, are organized by the hospital’s Community Nutrition Coordinator, AK Kritt, and participation is voluntary. 

Mission: To increase Swedish Hospital’s ability to address food insecurity and remove food access as a barrier to health for patients and employees. 

Major Funding: Swedish Hospital Foundation, private donors

Profit/nonprofit: Nonprofit

Annual Budget: Approximately $225,000 (including operations and staffing), varies annually based on current projects and Community Health Needs Assessment priorities.

Interesting fact about how it is working to positively affect health: Food Connections not only focuses on the food security and health of Swedish Hospital patients, but also prioritizes the health and well-being of its employees and the surrounding community. The program is part of Community CARE, a larger group of hospital programs addressing the social determinants of health. The mission of Community CARE is to honor the human dignity of all by expanding the reach and definition of healthcare.


Swedish Hospital
5140 N. California Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625

Core Programs: Nutrition education, produce distribution, hospital food pantry, hospital garden  

Number of staff: 2

Number of volunteers: 2

Areas served: Chicago, IL

Year Started: 2020

Program Director: AK Kritt, Community Nutrition Coordinator

Contact Information: Email: | Phone: 773-878-8200, ext. 5223

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