Food is love: Providing meals at home for the seriously ill

When you’re not feeling well, sometimes a fresh, healthy meal can make a huge difference. But if you have a chronic illness, or you’ve just been discharged from the hospital, it can be hard to have the ability to or find the energy or time to make a healthy meal, let alone shop for groceries.

In the New York City region, God’s Love We Deliver has been providing nutritious, medically tailored, home delivered meals to those chronically ill or in recovery from acute care for the last 35 years. Once a candidate is identified as unable to shop for or prepare meals on their own, the organization’s Registered Dietitian Nutritionists work closely with the client and their care team to identify proper nutrition and dietary needs — such as renal, low-sugar, dairy free, pureed foods and more — and delivers the meals directly to the patient’s home.

Providing access to nutritious food is crucial for multiple reasons. Health care costs are 1.5 times higher for food insecure individuals. Medically tailored meals are also shown to help improve health outcomes, lower the risk of hospital readmission and boost medication adherence. What’s more, meals are not just delicious food — they are part of medical nutrition therapy and can help manage disease or chronic health conditions.

To help support the mission of God’s Love We Deliver, UnitedHealthcare provided a grant to help expand the organization’s reach and serve more individuals living with illness and their families. Roughly 70% of their clients reside in underserved communities, in some of the city’s historically most at-risk neighborhoods.

“At UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of New York we recognize the correlation between nutritious food and good health. This becomes even more important when someone becomes ill,” said Dan Benardette, chief executive officer UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of New York.” That is why we are honored to support God’s Love We Deliver and the incredible work they do to provide individuals impacted by illness and their families with healthy meals.”

With grant funding and additional donations, God’s Love We Deliver is able to serve 10,000 clients a year, delivering more than 2.6 million meals.

“We exist to serve people living with serious, life-altering illness. 90% of our clients are living with more than one diagnosis,” says Dorella Walters, senior director of External Program Affairs at God’s Love We Deliver. “Our meals are designed to support them along the trajectory of their illness and treatment, to support them having the highest quality of life for as long as possible.”

“We see ourselves as a support for a family, as we know how difficult it is to care for others when you can’t shop or cook for yourself,” Dorella said. “They are appreciative of the nutritional education they’re receiving to better help manage their illness, but also how to support their children. Our goal is to support families however that’s defined.”

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, God’s Love We Deliver saw demand for their services increase by 30%. With the New York City area particularly hard hit by the pandemic, and the ability to get food severely curtailed for some people, due to risk of infection — for example, the closure of senior centers — the organization‘s ability to provide nutritional support became crucial.

“We received 3,500 phone calls that first weekend when the pandemic hit and the city shut down,” said Emmett Findley, director of communications for God's Love We Deliver. “We were deemed an Essential Services Provider, and continued operations without disruption. As demand for our program continues to grow, the grant from UnitedHealthcare is a wonderful support to help us continue our life-affirming services.”

Proper nutrition can be critical for the management of chronic illness. But beyond that, it’s a lifeline, an act of compassion and a moment of dignity for the clients they serve. By supporting this program, UnitedHealthcare can help break the link between food and nutrition insecurity, chronic illness and increased health care needs.

To find out more about God’s Love We Deliver and to check eligibility for you or a loved one, visit the organization's website.

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