Seana’s Story: A Journey Towards Better Health in a Food Desert
For this blog post, we are featuring Seana, a patron of one of our projects, The Jubilee Market run by Lower Lights Christian Health Center. The Jubilee Market is a not-for-profit grocery store run by the health center to help bring healthy food options to Franklinton. This is Seana’s story:
My name is Seana, grateful believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with a lot. God has let me live to see thirty-five beautiful years, so far. I was born in Franklinton at Mount Carmel West Hospital. I have lived and worked in Franklinton and Southwest Columbus for almost my entire life. I currently live just Southwest of Franklinton in Columbus with my husband and 3 children. My family is from “The Bottoms”. When my great, great grandparents came to America from Italy, they settled right in Franklinton and lived on North Guildford Ave. My family stayed in the area and my great grandparents’ house was on Wisconsin Ave, just one street over from where Lower Lights Christian Health Center currently sits. I have spent many hours looking out of my great grandmother’s window while washing dishes looking at the building that was once Anthony-Thomas but is now Lower Lights. I wish Lower Lights and Jubilee Market were there when my great grandmother was alive and living in Franklinton. She was elderly and did not have a car and could not walk far; having access to a pharmacy and grocery store would have been very convenient to her.
Franklinton is essentially in a food desert. Other than Jubilee Market there isn’t a grocery store where you can get fresh produce or healthy food options. There are several corner markets or corner stores in the area like Herbert’s Market or Salley’s Market. They offer mostly junk foods like chips, cookies, sodas and possibly some premade frozen or canned meals but no fresh produce or healthy food options. These establishments also sell cigarettes, beer, and lottery tickets. Other shelf stable or boxed foods could be purchased at Family Dollar, Dollar General or CVS but there isn’t a wide variety or many healthy choices and definitely not any fresh produce. Another option to try to find food in Franklinton is gas stations. But once again they only offer snack or junk food. If you were able-bodied, it would take about 25-30 minutes to walk to Aldi from Lower Light’s location and you would have to cross 3 major roads (West Broad St., Sullivant Ave. and West Mound St.) and then you must walk back with the groceries. The closest Kroger is about 3 miles away. Most people take the bus because there are no sidewalks on 3-C Highway, and it would take an hour or more to walk that far anyway. Neither of these stores are actually located in Franklinton but they are the closest options.
I learned of Lower Lights while working at another doctor’s office in the Franklinton area. The physician I worked for was an orthopedic surgeon and would see two of Lower Light’s patients a month free of charge that were uninsured, and it was one of my job responsibilities to schedule these patients and communicate with Lower Lights regarding these appointments. At that time, I really had a misconception about Lower Lights, and I think that many people still do have a misconception about the health center. I thought that Lower Lights was only a place for people that did not have insurance or only for people that had Medicaid insurance. I had private health care insurance through my employer so I did not think Lower Lights was the kind of place that I would ever find myself. But none the less, after working for 8 and half years at the same job I gave birth to my third child and could not return to work immediately afterward. I lost my source of income and my health insurance. I found myself desperately needing a doctor and my blood pressure medication.
I had developed high blood pressure during my pregnancy and needed a new prescription after my baby was born. I was genuinely concerned about being able to afford to see a doctor and afford my medication without insurance. I was also worried about having enough money for food because all the money coming into my household was going towards our mortgage and utility bills. When I came to Lower Lights, I was seen on a sliding scale fee for the first appointment and then they helped me to fill out an application for Medicaid. I was afraid I would not qualify but Lower Lights helped me navigate through the process and secure insurance for my whole family. When I saw my doctor, she asked me if my family was facing problems with food insecurities. I’ve been to lots of other doctors before and none of them asked me questions like she asked me. The doctors at Lower Lights are different. They are not interested in seeing you for only 5 minutes every 6 months to just refill your medications and send you back out the door so they can get to the next patient. My doctor really cares about me. She wants to know if I feel safe at home, if I have enough food, if I am having any issues with my medications or need spiritual care.
I have been a patient of Lower Lights Christian Health Center for 3 and a half years and I have been using the Jubilee Market for 2 years. I felt embarrassed at first to talk to my doctor about my family’s struggles with food insecurity. I did not expect that there was anything that she could do to help me. My family does not receive food stamps, but we do go to food banks. I had spent hours at times waiting at food banks only to receive food that was rotten, spoiled or not even close to enough to feed my family of 5. I felt more desperate and stressed than anything. I felt that as a wife and mother, it is my job to feed my family and be able to make the meals. It was exceedingly difficult for me to do that especially with food that was not of the best quality. I worried about it every day, all the time. When I finally broke down and admitted to my doctor at Lower Lights about how my family had been struggling with food insecurity, she told me about the Jubilee Healthy Food Rx Program that they offer.
The Jubilee Healthy Food Rx Program has been great for me and my family. I receive a monthly meal kit, benefits are added monthly on my Jubilee Healthy Food Rx Card to use at the Jubilee Market, and I meet with the dietician monthly. The Food Rx Card helps my family have an assortment of healthy food options available. We can come into the Jubilee Market anytime during the weekday for milk, yogurt, cereal, canned fruits, and vegetables, canned or dried beans, fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen fruits and vegetables, seasonings, whole grain rice, tomato sauce, whole wheat pastas and many other items. My kids love to come pick out the fresh fruits; apples are their favorite! I do not feel the same shame, guilt, stress or anxiety that I felt before about trying to obtain food or being able to get fresh food because I know I can get food at the Jubilee Market. The market has a partnership with WIC (Special supplemental nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children); and they always have WIC items available.
I really enjoy the meal kits as well. I feel like I learn something new every month either a different cooking skill or trying a different vegetable or a different combination of foods that I would have never tried. I also think meeting with the dietician is important to set goals and for food education purposes. I have learned a lot about getting other sources of protein besides meat, which is expensive; how to make more meatless meals for my family that are healthy, and how to limit sodium intake. The Food Rx Card helps with the immediate issue of food insecurity and the dietician helps with preventing or alleviating long-term health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. When I first came to Lower Lights, I was 336 lbs. and I now weigh 215 lbs. My blood pressure has also lowered significantly. Holistic healthcare and the Jubilee Healthy Food Rx Program have really worked for me.
Before I came to Lower Lights, I did not know what holistic care meant. I did not know that it was something that I needed so much in my life. Since I have been receiving whole person care and treatment, I feel that all areas of my life have improved; physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. I see my primary care physician regularly as well as my dietician and my clinical counselor, all at Lower Lights. My providers really care about me and want what is best for me. Every person at Lower Lights has shown me compassion and a willingness to form a transformative relationship with me. In the past, I have felt that I could not be honest with my other doctors or that my doctor did not care. My physician at Lower Lights always takes time to address all my concerns and helps me find solutions that will work for me in my situation. I have had problems most of my life and sometimes I couldn’t even understand why. I never received treatment or counseling until I came to Lower Lights. In the last year I have been able to go back to school and get my certification to become a mammographer and I just started an amazing job in my field. I know I would not have been able to get back on my feet like I did or achieve these things without the support I received from Lower Lights. They were there for me when I was desperate, at my lowest when felt I had nowhere else to go. I appreciate them so much and I believe in what they do because I see how it changed my life and I want that change for other people.
A special thank you to Dr. Jill Hartman MD, Susan Kennedy MS LPCC-S, and Clarissa Dilaveris RD, LD, CLC. These amazing women are my role models, mentors, and support system.