People with HIV, heart failure, diabetes and other conditions need to stay on specific diets for their health, but the pandemic made access to healthy foods difficult. Now a large insurance provider is teaming up with a local organization to address this need.
The pandemic has opened up more need.
"Since COVID started, we've had hundreds of people added to our waiting list," said Richard Ayoub, CEO of Project Angel Food.
The work of delivering 19,000 meals a week to low-income people with specific medical needs didn't stop because of COVID-19, it increased.
"Project Angel Food provides medically tailored meals for our clients. All of our clients are living with some kind of critical illness," Ayoub said.
Having congestive heart failure makes 60-year-old Linda Miles of Compton extremely sensitive to salt. Access to fresh produce isn't easy for her.
"And last time I did salt, my whole leg swelled up and I couldn't handle it. I couldn't even walk," said Miles.
Miles started receiving free Project Angel Food meals thanks to a $550,000 grant from L.A. Care Health Plan. It provides a year's worth of food to 150 people.
"It became very clear to us early in the pandemic that one of the greatest unmet needs of our members during the pandemic was access to healthy, nutritious food," said Dr. Richard Seidman, L.A. Care Health Plan's chief medical officer.
"So for someone like Linda who has congestive heart failure, our diet is extremely strict. She can only have 2 grams of salt a day," Ayoub said.
Miles said the cooks have managed to make a no-salt diet delicious.
"I may put a little black pepper on it, but it's still good. And for that chicken, I need the recipe, " she said.
L.A. Care Health Plan is working on pilot studies with the state of California to see how medically-tailored meals improve health outcomes, especially for patients just home from the hospital.
"If we can help the state prove the benefit, then we would hope that the state would add medically tailored meals as a covered benefit so we can more routinely provide food assistance," Seidman said.
For those with HIV, heart failure and diabetes, food is medicine. Miles says it's a lifeline.
"It's helping me to stay away from the salt with the food y'all giving me," she said. "It's beautiful. I really, really appreciate it."