Shipping Makes Medically Tailored Meals Available For Rural Coloradans

In Colorado’s rural areas, a small number of people with complex medical diagnoses are now receiving meals from Project Angel Heart! Our distribution coordinator, Matt Nigro, explains how we’re getting medically tailored meals to more people who need them.

Through Project Angel Heart’s core program, volunteers deliver meals to clients across 750 square miles of metro Denver and Colorado Springs. While we’re proud to serve such a large area, when you take a look at Colorado as a whole, there’s a strong need in rural areas for food assistance, especially with a nutritional focus. Shipping our frozen meals presents an exciting way to serve Coloradans we’ve never reached before!

The opportunity to expand our reach statewide came through several partnerships with health care providers in our Meals for Care Transitions program. Some of our partners include St. Mary’s Medical Center, where we provide meals to individuals on the Western Slope who are going through cancer treatment, and Telligen QIN-QIO, where we provide meals for Coloradans attending diabetes self-care classes across the state.

A diagram of one of our successful packing configurations. A cardboard box is lined with reusable cold pack insulation and items are padded and separated with frozen gel packs and recycled cardboard.

To make shipping possible, we spent about a year conducting research and development on ways to safely ship our frozen meals. I explored more than 20 supply vendors, created various packing designs, and tested our prototypes—the goal being a simple, cost-effective, and scalable method for shipping.

We faced a lot of challenges along the way… like how do we keep the meals frozen? How do we make sure they stay in-tact during transit? And, since sustainability is one of Project Angel Heart’s core values, how do we find affordable packaging materials that are recyclable and responsibly sourced?

A test shipment that didn’t quite go as planned… thankfully, we found a better way to organize the meals inside the package (and, we eliminated Styrofoam!).

Our Colorado Springs staff spent many months eagerly inspecting trial shipments from Denver to verify that the food arrived in the correct temperature range and undamaged. After lots of trial and error, we finalized a design that allows us to ship both frozen meals and refrigerated items such as fresh fruit and yogurt.

Project Angel Heart distribution staff pack each box in our kitchen before FedEx arrives to complete the overnight delivery right to the client’s door. The food is packed in a specific way to ensure the contents stay secure and intact during transit. Food safety is our top priority, so even though the food arrives within 24 hours, we utilize dry ice or frozen gel packs inside an insulated container, keeping everything cold for up to 48 hours in case a client can’t open the package right away.

A day’s shipments, packed and ready to be picked up and delivered overnight by FedEx.

Since we began shipping meals in May 2018, we have served Coloradans in 27 towns located in 15 different counties. We’ve sent out roughly 300 packages and served about 100 clients across Colorado, the farthest being 290 miles away from our Denver kitchen!

We’re thrilled thinking about what the future holds for the growth of this program. As the food is medicine movement gains momentum and we learn more about the health benefits of medically-tailored meals, broadening our reach means a lot to us. We’re continuously exploring new partnerships and opportunities for innovation so we can positively impact as many lives as possible.

Each heart on the map represents a town where we’ve shipped medically tailored meals.

 

 


Matt Nigro is Project Angel Heart’s distribution coordinator. Previously, Matt spent three years working at Food Bank of the Rockies, where he served hundreds of partner agencies- including Project Angel Heart. Originally from Aurora, Matt is a Colorado native, but mostly grew up in Massachusetts before making his way back in 2012. He studied Communications and History at UMass Amherst and, in 2015, had the opportunity to live and work on several organic farms across Italy, where he fell in love with the sustainable lifestyles. In his free time Matt enjoys painting, reading, hiking, rooting for the Broncos and Avs, and volunteering at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, CO.

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