Project Open Hand

Written by Danielle Weitzman
Summer 2016

With the opening retreat at the Student Organic Garden Association on May 23rd, 2016, my summer community project has only gotten better. As a continuation of my previous internship at Project Open Hand in Oakland, I’ve been able to dedicate more time to this non-profit organization and their new CHEFS (Changing Health through Food Support) study, beginning in August, 2016. Project Open Hand is dedicated to serving the Alameda Community with groceries and meal services. Our main clients have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS or breast cancer. (See below for a percentage breakdown of most common client illnesses). Our HIV funding comes from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program and our breast cancer funding comes from Avon. The past couple of months has taken my position from basic clientele intake and grocery shopping to an all inclusive position to prepare for this upcoming study for the benefit of our community’s current and future health.

The preparation of this study has been a challenge on both the professional and the clientele end. As the administrators of food and groceries during this process, we had to complete online training. Erin, the coordinator at UCSF has conducted countless interviews, body measurements and dedicated countless hours to this study. For the clientele, although compensated with the benefits of additional free food on top of the services they already qualify for, they have to coordinate timing and transportation to come interview at our grocery center. Many of our clients rely on public transportation or the east bay transit shuttles. Often, after arranging their ride with the shuttle, they will wait in the lobby up to an hour for it to swing by and pick them up. This study is an all inclusive 18+ month process from start to finish. There are three groups, two intervention and one control. Each group is closely studied for 6 months. The control group will continue to receive their regular services, while the intervention group will receive additional meals on top of their regular grocery services.

Many barriers have hindered the services we strive to supply the community with; Language barriers, scheduling the required nutrition assessment, providing proof of income, proof of insurance and proof of residency are just a few examples. We have taken a proactive approach to close the language gap. Our menus are trilingual (Cantonese, Spanish and English), the whiteboards have images of the item next to the English words, and our dietician, Jenna, utilizes a phone-translation service to carry out the nutrition assessment.

The takeaway from my extended experience beginning as an intern and transitioning into my community project has surpassed all of my expectations. The community I have built between clients and the staff of Project Open Hand makes me want to come in every single day to help others learn how to eat healthfully and to provide them with adequate sustenance. The services we provide make up about one third of our clients’ nutritional needs. On average, with the help of 125 volunteers daily, we distribute 2,500 meals to clients per day. Without Project Open Hand, many of our clients would be without food for days at a time. The reassurance that we are needed in the community makes my role worthwhile every single day. I will continue my work as an intern/volunteer throughout the fall 2016 semester.

Most Common Client Illnesses:

  • 65% HIV
  • 10% breast cancer
  • 9% diabetes
  • 7% cardiovascular disease
  • 5% other cancers
  • 2% end-stage renal disease

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