Oak Park food pantry teams up with Rush doctor to combat heart disease

Heart disease is often referred to as a "silent killer." According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five people in the U.S. died from it in 2021.

In a FOX 32 Special Report, Sylvia Perez looks at how a local food pantry and hospital are teaming up to help those who need cardiac care but might not know it.

The Beyond Hunger food pantry in Oak Park is going beyond its name to help area residents fight more than being hungry.

"Any time you can take a barrier away from our clients, we’re gonna have better health outcomes," said Bri Kellogg, a dietician and team leader at Beyond Hunger.

Last summer, she teamed up with Rush cardiologist Dr. Danny Luger to start offering free heart screenings at their food pantry.

"We do point of care testing, so it’s a finger stick and we have small analyzers that analyze it on the spot and print up the results," Luger said. "So they walk away knowing exactly what their lipid panel is, what their hemoglobin, A1C, which is like a sugar test."

After Luger and his team of medical students collect a little more information, the residents also walk away knowing this.

"Essentially risk stratify them. Tell them exactly what their 10-year risk of a heart attack is based on their blood pressure and lipid profile," Luger said.

That’s pretty important for some of the pantry’s clients, as people with food insecurity can have a much higher incidence of cardiovascular disease.

"It takes away a lot of the barriers our clients face - transportation, access to medical care. So it’s been a huge asset to our team and all to have Dr. Luger’s team here," Kellogg said.

Since last August, Rush's pop-up cardio clinic has helped nearly 200 Oak Park area residents who come to the food pantry.

Rush said about half of those screened are considered "high risk" for potential cardiovascular problems down the road.

So, what happens after the initial screening?

"They get plugged in to a queue at the main campus at Rush and the social workers and community health workers then contact them for other needs that are further down the line," Luger said.

They can also stop in and see Luger and his team for a follow-up visit whenever they are at the food pantry. Right now, that’s one Saturday each month.

"For me, as a dietician, it’s been super exciting because I see that spark in people that they want to take back their health. They want to do what they can to make their bodies healthier," Kellogg said.

A pop-up clinic also provides a spark for the medical school students who volunteer here. A spark many of us many benefit from in the future.

"Because everyone has a different story and everyone has different challenges. So learning how to have those conversations and really make a patient-centered plan has been beneficial to our career," said Cricket Rickert, Rush medical student.

Given the success they've seen so far, Luger and his team are working on expanding the number of locations where you can find them.

Rush Center for Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease at Beyond Hunger upcoming events:

  • August 3rd, 9 am - 12 pm: Beyond Hunger, 848 Lake St, Oak Park, IL 60301
  • September 14th, 9 am - 12 pm: Beyond Hunger, 848 Lake St, Oak Park, IL 60301