A caregiver of two, the FMC pantry provides stability

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The Johnston’s unload the groceries he bought from the FMC pantry while discussing dinner plans with his grandfather, Larry. Photo by Joel Blocker, for UCHealth.

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Teaming up to end hunger

UCHealth and Major League Baseball (MLB) are teaming up for this year’s MLB All-Star Week to engage the local community and raise funds for Feed the Colorado.

UCHealth’s donations to Feeding Colorado – $ 10,000 for every home run – will count toward the 2021 MLB All-Star Celebrity Softball Game, which takes place on Sunday, July 11. All the famous attendees will have the opportunity to lend a hand in the hungry fights in Colorado.

The UCHealth Family Medicine Center Pantry operates as an affiliate for Larimer County Food Bank, one of Feeding Colorado’s five community food banks.

Feeding Colorado, an association of the state’s five Feeding America food banks, provides meals to Colorado residents in need through direct service programs and a network of Hunger Relief partners. The organization provided 116 million meals last year while improving food resources and coordinating advocacy efforts across the state.

In addition to MLB All-Star Celebrity Softball Game, UCHealth will engage with fans at several All-Star events throughout the week – from Saturday July 10 through Tuesday July 13 – including hosting a pre-race streak for MLB All-Star participants 5K.

UCHealth encourages the community to visit uchealth.org/allstar to donate to Feeding Colorado. Also on the website, enter raffles for a chance to win tickets to All Star Week events including All Star Sunday, T-Mobile Home Run Derby and the MLB All Star Game. presented by MasterCard.

At 32, Les Johnston has his hands full. He’s a single dad who works full time while looking after his diabetic grandfather.

The last few years have been particularly difficult. After an amicable divorce in 2017, Johnston adjusted to living with her grandparents while sharing custody of her 9-year-old daughter. When her grandmother was diagnosed with cancer in January 2017, Johnson took over the management of her grandfather’s diabetes.

With his own health issues, too, Johnston faces a lot of challenges. But there was one stable place in her life: the pantry at UCHealth Family Medicine Center – Fort Collins. The thoughtful folks in the pantry did more than put food in the stomachs of his family.

Every Tuesday, Johnston goes to the UCHealth – Fort Collins wound care clinic at Poudre Valley Hospital to drop off his grandfather, Larry. Diabetes has taken its toll on Larry since his wife’s death and he currently needs weekly treatment for his feet at the clinic.

Johnston then heads a few blocks to the Family Medicine Center. With both parents receiving health care services there, the center has been a part of Johnston’s family all his life.

“So naturally I started going there,” said Johnston. “Once they started the food bank, I didn’t go anywhere else. “

The Family Medicine Center provides primary care and trains residents who are trained to become physicians. Each day, providers serve approximately 150 patients, 70% of whom are low-income people eligible for Medicaid. The centre’s pantry opened in 2017, and it operates as a branch for Larimer County Food Bank.

“For people who do not have access to high quality foods, including fresh vegetables, dairy products and quality meats, the health consequences can be devastating,” said Dr Kristin Andreen, director medical center.

Les Johnson chooses canned goods, which he bought from the FMC pantry, in preparation for dinner.  Photo by Joel Blocker, for UCHealth.
Les Johnson chooses canned goods, which he bought from the FMC pantry, in preparation for dinner. Photo by Joel Blocker, for UCHealth.

“Lack of adequate and healthy food can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and even kidney disease,” Andreen said. “When we tackle food insecurity by providing fresh, healthy options and a food bank-worthy experience, it really makes life better. “

Johnston and his family are a prime example.

On one of Johnston’s recent visits to the pantry, he was able to stock up on healthy carrots, lettuce, green beans, apples and oranges.

“Vegetables are the main thing I look for when I go to the food bank,” said Johnston. “I finally have my grandfather who eats his vegetables. I am fixing them in a way that is good.

Johnston learned his cooking skills by borrowing cookbooks available from the cashier in the pantry. He copies the recipes and returns the books the following week.

The Johnsons unload the vegetables he bought from the FMC Food Bank that day.  In addition to caring for his 9-year-old daughter, Les also cares for his diabetic grandfather.  Photo by Joel Blocker, for UCHealth.
The Johnston’s unload the vegetables he bought from the FMC pantry that day. Les takes care of two children: her 9-year-old daughter and her diabetic grandfather. The pantry helps her provide nutritious meals for her family. Photo by Joel Blocker, for UCHealth.

“I got so many cookbooks from these guys, but I’m bringing them back for someone else to use,” Johnston said. “If I fix the right food properly, then Grandpa will eat it.” Stir-fry is a big thing in our house, and my daughter loves steamed vegetables even though she prefers to eat them raw.

With the Healthy Cooking Resource, Johnston was able to control his grandfather’s A1C levels for the first time and he lost 40 pounds of unhealthy weight.

“It changed my lifestyle, being a caregiver and having a full-time job,” Johnston said. “But I’m trying to make sure Grandpa has what he needs. I have some food set aside for him to put in the microwave while I work.

Johnston also sources canned fruits and vegetables.

“With diabetes, grandpa has to snack at least five times a day and canned food is really good for that,” he said. “Then we usually cook salads and rice for dinner. “

The Johnston's cook dinner for him and his grandfather, Larry, at their Fort Collins home.  With the help of FMC's pantry, Les was able to cook healthy meals and stabilize Larry's A1C levels.  Photo by Joel Blocker, for UCHealth.
The Johnston’s cook dinner while chatting with his grandfather, Larry, at their Fort Collins home. With the help of FMC’s Pantry, Les cooks healthy meals and has successfully stabilized Larry’s A1C levels. Photo by Joel Blocker, for UCHealth.

“I try to think of what I don’t have when I come here,” he continued. “Sometimes they have a little casserole of beef lasagna. I can take this to work for lunch. I’m having canned beans and veggies because I’m going to be making chili. We are going through this quickly.

Larry had dentures fitted the other day. Johnston has to consider his grandfather’s dietary restrictions when preparing meals. He gets other good options, like the chicken and tomato noodle soup.

And eggs. Lots of eggs.

Johnston often has hard-boiled eggs and a box of Viennese sausage during his lunch break at Valvoline in Fort Collins, where he works as an oil technician. He can’t justify spending money on fast food when he has what he needs at home.

“I can’t skip a week (in the pantry) because we go through food quickly. And, if I don’t go two days a week, we’re running out of those veggies.

The food bank is open four days a week. In June 2021, it served 352 unique households, or 891 people. Between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021, the pantry received more than 10,100 visits.

Cooks them a healthy meal using food he bought from FMC's pantry.  Photo by Joel Blocker, for UCHealth.
Cooks them a healthy meal using food he bought from FMC’s pantry. Photo by Joel Blocker, for UCHealth.

“Being located within FMC is the whole idea of ​​wellness,” said Laura Elliot, Pantry Coordinator. “We don’t just care about one aspect of their life.”

Not only does this ensure food security, but having regular weekly visits to the food bank has given Johnston a routine he needs as a recovering alcoholic. When he lost his grandmother in 2017, this routine helped him continue and was an outlet for his grandfather as well.

“With Grandma in the hospital, the food bank was something to be expected – especially people, like Laura, I was hanging out and talking with her. I wouldn’t take off right away because there would be a long time waiting for the doctors. Sometimes I would even help help stocks, ”said Johnston. “And I would make Grandpa go to the food bank with me. It would give him a second to get away from the hospital. We all needed something structurally stable in our lives.

That’s why the pantry is so necessary, Elliot said.

“The impact we can have on their personal lives, not just the ability to feed them, is touching,” she said. “The best we can hope for is to create something stable in their life.”


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