campus news

UB student-led program an oasis in the ‘food desert’

Srikrithi Krishnan (left), X, and X bag fresh, in-season produce for the Food Box initiative.

UB student Srikrithi Krishnan (left) and volunteers bag fresh, in-season produce for the Food Box initiative. Photo: Douglas Levere

Graduate student in mechanical and aerospace engineering

Published July 17, 2023

Srikrithi Krishnan.
“When you’re able to create a step that helps combat food insecurity, it’s a really great way for them to be able to stay healthier and create healthy habits. ”
Srikrithi Krishnan, MPH student and coordinator
Food Box initiative

On any given Friday, Srikrithi Krishnan, a master’s student in the School of Public Health and Health Professions, is a regular at the Lighthouse Free Medical Clinic, serving the uninsured and underinsured.

Her mission: to help combat food insecurity, one fresh food box at a time.   

The Food Box initiative was conceived approximately two years ago, under the umbrella of Lighthouse, a free clinic run by medical students in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. The clinic, which has served Buffalo residents for more than two decades, provides a wide array of medical services to anyone in need, regardless of insurance status.

The food initiative, initially spearheaded by medical students Victoria Lazarov and Megan Long, is now being led by students in the allied health fields — public health, social work and dietetics — and has continued to grow under their stewardship. 

“We realized that a number of our patients were food insecure,” says Jessica Kruger, clinical associate professor in the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior and director of teaching innovation and excellence in the School of Public Health and Health Professions. “And so what we wanted to do is help reduce food insecurity and focus on fresh fruits and vegetables. 

“We partnered with FreshFix, a local food distributor, and were able to start this program.”

Krishnan’s involvement with Food Box began when she assumed the role of coordinator, taking on the task of organizing the distribution of fresh food to clinic patients with limited access due to location or finances. 

The initiative is not simply a charitable act. It’s a strategic counterstrike against a persistent enemy: food insecurity.

“In Buffalo, numerous regions are labeled as ‘food deserts’ — areas where fresh, healthy food options are scarce or unaffordable,” Krishnan explains. “Buffalo has a lot of food deserts, and there are so many people who don’t have access to healthy food. Even if they do, it’s often unaffordable.”

Food Box aims to provide not just food, but healthy alternatives to those trapped in a cycle of unhealthy eating.

“When people are already in low-income, low-education situations, they face social barriers that often lead them to unhealthy eating habits,” she says. “This results in an increase in obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

Recipients receive boxes of fresh, in-season produce every other week during the program’s six-week cycle. And Krishnan’s vision goes beyond just providing food: She would like to help people develop healthier eating habits. She says that while there is currently no formal education component to the program, adding one is something that is being discussed.

Before joining the Food Box initiative, Krishnan volunteered at the Lighthouse clinic as part of the allied health team that takes patients’ health histories before they meet with doctors. Over time, she felt drawn to a leadership role, which led her to her current role as Food Box coordinator.   

“Under her coordination, the process of the boxes being ordered, lining up drivers for those boxes and any other follow-up that needs to be done in between are smoothly handled,” Kruger says. “There’s a lot of logistic coordination with everything she has to do.

“I’m incredibly proud of the students for creating, building and implementing this program for the community,” she says. “It really shows that there’s more to health than medical care.”

Krishnan, a Western New York Prosperity Fellow, is deeply committed to improving access to quality health care and nutritious food, especially for those lacking health insurance.

“When you’re able to create a step that helps combat food insecurity, it’s a really great way for them to be able to stay healthier and create healthy habits,” Krishnan says.