A version of this post was originally published on Feeding America's Hunger + Health blog, authored by Brittney Rooney, Youth and Nutrition Program Coordinator, Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan.

Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan has a mission to end hunger in Southeast Michigan. One of our many partners Redford Interfaith Relief (RIR), a pantry tucked behind a historic schoolhouse in Redford, MI, in Wayne County, serves about 200 families monthly.

In Wayne County, 12% of adults are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, according to the 2016 Wayne County Community Needs Assessment. The assessment showed 34% of adults are obese, which increases the risk of coronary heart disease, hypertension, and type-II diabetes. Low-income people are disproportionately likely to be obese.

Sue Pherson, Executive Director of RIR, is aware of the growing concern of diseases like type II diabetes, but admits that some food pantries have limited capacity. “We don’t want to do something that experts can do,” Pherson explained, because they have limited resources to go beyond their core mission of providing food.

Administrative Assistant Angela Wolf, however, pointed out that they have always helped direct people towards services and organizations which address other needs. “It’s like outsourcing,” Wolf pointed out. Pherson added, “It’s a win-win when you partner with another organization.”

One program that RIR brought into their pantry to help address this concern was the Feeding America Intervention Trial for Health – Diabetes Mellitus (FAITH-DM), a randomized controlled research trial being conducted at three member food banks. This work is funded in part by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Policies for Action program and Feeding America.

Alameda County Community Food BankHouston Food Bank and Gleaners Community Food Bank began enrolling clients living with type 2 diabetes in 2015. RIR is just one of many pantries throughout the country that is partnering with this research study.

While RIR tries to take notes of clients’ health needs, they cannot always capture the necessary information. Pherson said “the biggest thing that helped us as a pantry is that FAITH-DM staff had the time to talk to people individually that we don’t.”

According to Pherson and Wolf, participants in the study continue talking about the positive effects FAITH-DM has had on their health. One woman who supported her husband through the lifestyle changes in the study said, “It saved his life.” These kinds of changes can lead to a drop in hemoglobin A1c, (a three-month picture of blood sugar levels,) which decreases the potential for complications for individuals with diabetes.

Pherson thinks the program’s success is partially attributed to its accessibility. Because Gleaners’ staff was able to provide screening, education, food distributions and follow-up A1c tests for project participants at the pantry, clients participated without additional travel. We were able to meet people where they were.

“The best place to come if you want to do a service for low income folks is a food pantry,” she explained, because of the obstacle of transportation for the majority of its clients.

Although the FAITH-DM program was only able to address a piece of the larger chronic, diet-related disease problem, it will help contribute to evidence on effective ways to give people the tools to manage their health conditions. For Sue Pherson, however, seeing the data doesn’t define a successful program: “Successful programs are those that have the ability to connect directly with clients.”