Special Projects Fund

Grantee Name

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Funding Area

Special Projects Fund

Publication Date

January 2015

Grant Amount


Grant Date:

March 2011 – August 2014

Food insecurity, or lack of access to enough nutritionally adequate food, is a major threat to the health of New Yorkers living with serious illnesses or chronic medical conditions such as cancer.

Food pantries are often only open during limited times that often coincide with patients’ chemotherapy or radiation appointments. Documentation status also complicates matters for immigrant patients, as approximately 65% of the pantries require proof of income and/or photo identification. To address this disparity, NYHealth awarded Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center a grant to implement the Food for Health program, which was created to assess and address food insecurity among immigrant and minority patients with cancer. The program links medically ill patients who screened for food insecurity with a hospital-based food pantry and connects patients to other emergency services.

Food for Health is a partnership between Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Immigrant Health and Cancer Disparities Service; Food Bank for New York City and its food pantries; NYU Steinhardt School; New York City Council; American Cancer Society; Empire Justice Center; New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation; Brooklyn Hospital Center; and Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention.

Outcomes and Lessons Learned

  • Developed and implemented an assessment program to screen new patients’ food security status and need for food assistance;
  • Distributed the equivalence of more than 62,000 meals to more than 1,000 patients and their family members since October 2011. The amount of food distributed in 2013 more than doubled from the previous year (from 1,519 bags in 2012 to 3,755 bags in 2013), and approximately two-thirds of patients picked up food two or more times, giving positive feedback about the program;
  • Expanded the reach of the Food for Health program to seven hospital-based food pantries in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens;
  • Leveraged an additional $190,000 in funding from program partners and other sources; and
  • Implemented a pilot food voucher program, mirroring the U.S. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, to provide each participant a $230 debit card for the month. Under this program, 2,400 Health Bucks coupons, which can be used to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables from farmers’ markets, were distributed to Food for Health participants at all sites.

A randomized controlled trial study has been designed to evaluate whether participation in Food for Health leads to statistically significant improvements in quality of life, food security, medical appointment keeping, Healthy Eating Index measures, and weight. Data collection and analysis are in progress and the findings are expected to be published and used to scale up the program.