Why Contract Food Service? Learn More.

How the Cleveland Clinic Eliminated a Food Desert – And Improved Lives in the Community

The opening of a new supermarket in January 2024 surrounding the Cleveland Clinic’s main campus in Cleveland marked the end of a local food desert. Covering 40,000 square feet, Fairfax Market, owned by Midwest grocery company Meijer, offers a wide range of products, including fresh meat and deli items, fresh produce, and a bakery. Learn more about it here

Eliminating food deserts is one of many ways Cleveland Clinic is helping reduce food insecurity for many low-income residents in the neighborhood. Providing them with healthy, accessible food is one of the best ways to improve chronic disease rates, which run high in the community.  

What It’s Like to Live in a Food Desert 

I feel a personal connection to this event and the important role it will play in the lives of neighborhood residents. That’s because I experienced the stress of living in that food desert when I moved there in November 2019. 

At that time, my son was finishing high school in St. George, Utah, so I lived part-time in Cleveland. I rented an apartment three blocks from the hospital, didn’t have a car, and my apartment was sparsely furnished.  

I had a desk and an air mattress. I only bought one pan, four forks, knives, and spoons, two bowls, and two glasses for the kitchen. This was my life for the next 19 months until I moved to Cleveland full-time. 

Without a grocery store within walking distance, I quickly learned how difficult it was to purchase healthy food. It was approximately two miles to the nearest grocery store. I took the bus once and occasionally got a ride to the store. But without a car to load the food, I could only buy 1-2 bags of food each trip. And then, I had to carry them from the street and up the stairs into my apartment building. 

This situation limited the food I bought – it had to be light to carry it, and it had to last for several days. So, I pretty much lived off a few staple items, such as bread, dry cereal, cheese, and peanut butter. 

 I ate a light breakfast, usually a bowl of dry cereal or a granola bar. Fortunately, I was able to buy a healthy lunch at the hospital – certainly a perk not enjoyed by local residents since I could afford to pay for it. When I came home at night, I ate a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches made in my one pan. 

 If I stayed in Cleveland for the weekend, it got even tougher. I often ate two meals daily, again consuming the same basic items. There was a sandwich shop in the neighborhood, but it closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the winter, the occasional sub-zero days with snow made it even more difficult to leave the building. And even venturing within a few miles to Little Italy or other neighborhoods for a hot meal was difficult since there was a 90-minute wait for an Uber or Lyft. 

As a result of a poor diet and eating the same food every day, the impact became clear. I didn’t sleep well and lost some weight. The only respite was eating healthy meals during my trips back to Utah – taking my morning run and eating a hot breakfast, for example. But these short trips had little impact on my overall health.  

 The experience of living in a food desert gave me a glimpse of the tough reality that others face daily – and made me even more thankful for the many blessings I enjoy. I was honored to be invited to the ribbon-cutting event for this gorgeous market one block from the hospital and less than a half mile from my old apartment. 

The Cleveland Clinic’s Strategic Approach to Addressing the Issue 

The work done by the hospital with Meijer and the city of Cleveland is just part of Cleveland Clinic’s commitment overall strategy to help combat food insecurity and chronic diseases among people living in northeast Ohio.  

In December 2023, The Cleveland Clinic pledged $10.5 million over the next five years to support the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, as well as new programs. These funds include a unique approach by creating food pharmacies where experts prescribe healthy food options for pediatric and pregnant patients and the public. The money will also make it easier for people to access healthy food by offering a voucher program that delivers food to homes, eliminating the need for transportation. 

I’m proud that Morrison was in on the ground floor of these ideas. In 2022, I provided a review of all literature on food pharmacies with examples from other health systems and guidance on how to create food pharmacies. We continue to provide ongoing advice on operationalizing food pharmacies and provide strategic funding for this initiative to support the work. 

In the past, we’ve worked with the Clinic on other programs.  

For example, the Medically Tailored Meals program delivered free meals to patients to treat chronic diseases. Morrison’s chefs and dietitians created the meals to include food with low sodium and saturated fat, giving people with heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic diseases a better way to manage their health. 

And we work regularly with the Clinic on other programs, such as helping prepare more than 3,000 nutritious free meals on the Saturday before Thanksgiving every year for those in the community. 

As my experience shows, people who don’t receive enough nutrients or the right balance of nutrients daily will struggle to function properly. Fighting food insecurity for the neighborhood surrounding each of its northeast Ohio hospitals is one of the Clinic’s top priorities – and Morrison will always be there to support this initiative. 

More Transparency. Better Results.

As your strategic partner, we embrace creative and innovative opportunities to support your goals and help you reduce the cost of care. Having a partner that can balance resources with unmatched purchasing power will accelerate your organization’s transformational journey.

  • 1,000 Client Locations
  • 17% Fewer FTEs than Self-Op
  • 25.7% Retail Growth for New Clients