Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island and Meals on Wheels of Rhode Island Celebrate 1,000th Bag Delivery of Pilot Shelf-Stable Food Program

Program launched in July 2022 as a pilot benefit to address food insecurity among Neighborhood INTEGRITY Medicare-Medicaid Plan members. Was extended in early 2023 in response to reductions in SNAP allotments that were tied to the end of the federal government’s COVID-19 emergency SNAP benefits.

June 15, 2023 (Smithfield, RI) –  Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island (Neighborhood) and Meals on Wheels of Rhode Island recently celebrated the 1,000th delivery of shelf-stable food bags under a pilot food benefit by visiting program clients, who are members of Neighborhood’s INTEGRITY Medicaid-Medicare Plan. The Neighborhood-Meals on Wheels Shelf-Stable Food Bag Program launched in July 2022 and will conclude its extended pilot phase on July 31. The program has aimed to positively impact the health and well-being of the 167 Neighborhood INTEGRITY members participating in the program. The majority of program participants reside in Providence County.

Through the program, Neighborhood INTEGRITY members, some of whom are Meals on Wheels of Rhode Island Home-Delivered Meal Program clients, have received a monthly home delivery of shelf-stable food bags containing good sources of the nutrients typically lacking in their diets. The bags also contain nutrition education, recipes, and information about Neighborhood’s member benefits.

“The program has helped me a lot, and I have a lot of gratitude for it,” said Maria Montanez, Neighborhood INTEGRITY member and Providence resident. “I like everything about the food bag because of the nutrients and because the contents are low in sodium. I watch the salt in my food, and it gives me more ease to eat meals knowing they are low in salt.” Montanez, 67, lives with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and a host of other health challenges.

Mark Cooper, vice president of Medicare-Medicaid Integration for Neighborhood, said, “As we approached the 1,000th food bag milestone for this pilot benefit, we recognized the opportunity it presented to visit some of our members to secure anecdotal data on the program. Direct conversation with members is invaluable in determining the true impact of a program on a member’s health. And, since our INTEGRITY members are among the most medically fragile and underserved individuals in the state – with many screening as food insecure – we have been hopeful about the pilot and the assistance it could provide.”

Through the visits, Cooper and INTEGRITY Product Director Lisa Duchesne learned that Neighborhood’s INTEGRITY members have come to rely on the culturally appropriate shelf-stable food and enjoy making meals from the bags’ contents. Duchesne said, “One of our members, Ms. Montanez, made us a fruit and bean salad – she was so happy to share it with us. She conveyed she loves the delivery and makes meals that meet her needs through Neighborhood’s partnership with Meals on Wheels of Rhode Island.”

Launched as a six-month pilot program in July 2022, Neighborhood extended the program earlier this year. The extension was implemented in response to reductions in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) allotments that were tied to the end of the federal government’s COVID-19 emergency SNAP benefits.

“Extending the food bag program was the right thing to do,” said Cooper. “These members didn’t need one more thing to worry about when the public health emergency ended. Plus, this program not only addresses food insecurity, but social isolation and loneliness, which can also greatly impact a senior’s health.”

“I find the program to be very helpful because the food is very healthy for me,” said Maria Aguiar, Neighborhood INTEGRITY member and Pawtucket resident. “I love the rice, beans and cereal I receive. I think the program is outstanding.” Aguiar, 92, is a diabetic and lives with chronic pain, hypertension and other health challenges.

Meals on Wheels of Rhode Island Executive Director Meghan Grady said, “Neighborhood has, for many years, been a great partner in our organization’s work and we are thrilled to continue to collaborate on innovative ways to improve food access for their members. The shelf-stable food bags delivered under the expansion of our ‘More Than a Meal’ model are one way our organization is addressing food is medicine and increasing our statewide impact in helping older adults to maintain independent living.”

The meal bags include a variety of foods such as milk, juice, oats, cereal, rice, pasta, peanut butter, canned beans, canned meat—poultry or fish—and canned fruits and vegetables. Foods were chosen based on the food group categories found at and on a U.S. Department of Agriculture food list. Contents of the bags vary for each delivery. The food bags are delivered mid-month to augment when members’ SNAP food benefits begin to run out. Neighborhood team members assist monthly with bag packing as a volunteer opportunity.

Following the extended pilot’s conclusion, Neighborhood will analyze its full impact and consider next steps. Evaluation criteria will include improvements in self-reported food insecurity, levels of access to food, health status, and reduced overall financial strain. Neighborhood’s hope is that the pilot proves to be successful in addressing the challenges that are often the most significant barriers to food access – economic stability, access to transportation and availability of healthy foods.”

Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island (Neighborhood) is a not-for-profit health maintenance organization (HMO) founded in December 1993 in partnership with Rhode Island’s Community Health Centers and the state to ensure everyone in Rhode Island has access to high quality, cost-effective health care. Neighborhood serves over 231,000 members in the state with 84 percent of its membership Medicaid eligible through its ACCESS and TRUST plans and 6 percent of its membership utilizing Neighborhood’s INTEGRITY Medicare-Medicaid Plan (MMP). About 10 percent of Neighborhood’s members are individuals, families and small businesses who select one of eight Neighborhood commercial plans available through the health exchange, HealthSourceRI. Of these members, about 85 percent qualify for federal subsidies to cover a portion of their costs. Today, Neighborhood—with over 650 employees and $1.6 billion in revenue—serves one out of every five Rhode Islanders. Learn more at

Posted June 15, 2023