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Empire BlueCross BlueShield Foundation Invests $300,000 in Housing Works' Digital Food Market Expansion
[December 01, 2023]

Empire BlueCross BlueShield Foundation Invests $300,000 in Housing Works' Digital Food Market Expansion

On World AIDS Day, Housing Works, the nation's largest community-based AIDS Service Organization, announced a substantial $300,000 investment from Empire BlueCross BlueShield Foundation over three years. This collaboration aims to extend the reach of Housing Works' "digital food market," powered by Tangelo, enhancing access to nutritious meals for food-insecure New Yorkers, especially those with chronic conditions such as HIV/AIDS. Digital food market clients receive two free food boxes monthly for a year, with the option to use SNAP benefits thereafter. Clients are given personalized food options, empowering them to make choices tailored to their health conditions, cultural preferences, and kitchen access.

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Housing Works, a founding member of EngageWell IPA, utilizes the Care Your Way initiative, a multifaceted healthcare transformation pilot project led by Housing Works together with EngageWell, a NYC-based network of 20 nonprofit organizations. The digital food bank is part of this initiative, addressing food insecurity and food-sensitive illnesses among low-income New Yorkers, particularly in communities of color within EngageWell's network.

Naomi Harris Tolson, Vice President of Healthcare Innovation at Housing Works, Inc. said that "Access to healthy food is a human right and food is medicine! Care Your Way has modernized the food safety-net, providing streamlined access to healthy food for clients who need it most. The digital food platform empowers clients to choose healthy food with dignity, delivered right to their door."

With over 89% of New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS facing food insecurity, the Care Your Way program is pivotal in bridging this gap amid a 14% increase in HIV diagnoses in NYC from 2020 to 2021. According to Christopher Joseph, EngageWell's Executive Director, "ending the HIV epidemic and breaking the link between poverty, structural racism, and poor health, which is the mission of our growing network, can only be achieved by prioritizing evidence-based interventions that reach New York City's most vulnerable communities and that can be scaled easily."

"As part of our mission to improve the health of New Yorkers and eliminate health inequities, Empire is committed to expanding access to nutritious food options across our local communities," said Dr. Mark Levy, President and CEO, Empire BlueCross BlueShield HealthPlus. "Our collaboration with EngageWell and Housing Works reflects our shared commitment to innovative programming that treats food as medicine particularly for individuals managing chronic conditions."

The Care Your Way initiative addresses socioeconomic barriers like food insecurity and medication adherence through an integrated care model that prioritizes patient choice in care and treatment methods. This hybrid approach aims to increase patient satisfaction, improve engagement in preventive care, and reduce avoidable healthcare spending.

EngageWell ensures comprehensive wraparound patient support through various partnerships, and looking ahead, the initiative may scale its work through the New York Health Equity Reform (NYHER) Program. Johanne Morne, Acting Executive Deputy Commissioner at the New York State Department of Health, emphasized in her 2022 Call to Action Letter the importance of addressing larger social issues, aligning with the holistic approach of Care Your Way, contributing to the broader goals of the Ending the Epidemic (EtE) initiative.

Elevance Health, the parent company of Empire BlueCross BlueShield, will invest up to $30 million over three years through the Elevance Health Foundation to address food insecurity and promote optimal health through good nutrition. As of September 2023, over $27 million in food as medicine grants has been awarded nationwide.

Empire BlueCross BlueShield will be known as Anthem BlueCross BlueShield, effective January 1, 2024.

About Empire BlueCross BlueShield Foundation

The Empire BlueCross BlueShield Foundation, the trade name of the Elevance Health Foundation, serves residents and businesses in the 28 eastern and southeastern counties of New York State. The Foundation works to address health equity by focusing on improving the health of the socially vulnerable through strategic partnerships and programs in our communities with an emphasis on maternal child health; mental health; and food as medicine. Additionally, the Foundation also responds to disasters when our communities need us the most. The Foundation coordinates the company's year-round Dollars for Dollars program which provides a 100 percent match of associates' donations, as well as its Volunteer Time Off and Dollars for Doers community service programs. ®ANTHEM is a registered trademark of Anthem Insurance Companies, Inc. The Blue Cross and Blue Shield names and symbol are registered marks of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. To learn more about the Empire BlueCross BlueShield Foundation and the Elevance Health Foundation, please visit and its blog at

About EngageWell IPA

EngageWell IPA is a leading healthcare organization created in 2017 by New York City not-for-profit organizations working together to offer coordinated, integrated treatment options that include addressing social determinants of health-housing, nutrition, economic security. Through innovative clinical care models and strategic partnerships, EngageWell strives to create a more equitable healthcare system that addresses health disparities and improves the health and wellbeing of historically disenfranchised communities.

About Housing Works, Inc.

Housing Works is a founding member of EngageWell and will receive and administer Empire BlueCross BlueShield 'food as medicine' funding on behalf of the IPA. For over 25 years, Housing Works has strived to end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy, the provision of lifesaving services, and entrepreneurial businesses that sustain our efforts. Our 12 Thrift Shops and signature events directly benefit our trailblazing work in grassroots activism, healthcare, and housing. Housing Works led the way during the height of the AIDS crisis in New York City and continues to lead resistance efforts across the country in this current political climate.

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