The Fuel to Thrive: How Fortune Addresses Food Insecurity from the Ground Up

The Fuel to Thrive: How Fortune Addresses Food Insecurity from the Ground Up


Like a hearty meal, many ingredients are needed to create a sustainable path to successful community reentry for individuals with justice involvement. Unfortunately, criminal justice in the U.S. is not optimized for rehabilitation, perpetuating a needless cycle of recidivism that sees upwards of 83% of individuals with justice involvement rearrested in the years after their release from state prisons.

Empowering people through holistic and supportive services helps to counteract this startling statistic, a belief The Fortune Society has implemented since 1967. These services include proper food and nutrition, a foundational part of thriving that too many individuals in prisons and jails are tragically missing. As The Atlantic reports, many correctional institutions fail to meet basic standards of food preparation and safety, leaving individuals with justice involvement at a significantly higher risk for illnesses connected to what they eat than others:

“According to a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), [people in prison] are 6.4 times more likely to suffer from a food-related illness than the general population.”


In popular culture, “prison food” is widely understood to be low in both quality and taste. What isn’t discussed as often, however, is the toll a lack of proper nutrition has on an individual’s ability to move forward from their past. Far too often, individuals leaving U.S. jails and institutions bring with them a host of new medical issues, including hypertension and diabetes—all, as Prison Policy notes, at rates higher than the average population.

Through safe, supportive housing and quality meals, individuals with justice involvement discover healthy eating habits at The Fortune Society

What’s worse is that the inadequacies of “prison food” isn’t just exclusive to prisons and jails. In communities around the country, individuals experience food insecurity daily. In fact, according to the Food Bank for New York City, the food insecurity rate was over 16% in NYC alone, with over 1.3 million individuals labeled as food insecure. In addition to bodily consequences, this consistent lack of adequate nutrition has a significant impact on an individual’s mental and emotional wellbeing. As Harvard Medical School states:

“Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function — and even a worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression.”


It’s no wonder, then, that a strong correlation exists between health and criminal justice involvement. A recent internal study by the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service concluded that 60% of participants at The Fortune Society are food insecure, with 21% being very insecure. Of those who do consume enough calories, a vast majority of what is eaten is not high in a recommended amount of nutritional value.

While 41% of Fortune participants said they have enough to eat, the nutritional quality of the foods consumed was inadequate, with 72% of the group indicating that they ate fewer than three fruits and vegetables per day.


The Fortune Society's Food and Nutrition program helps people access food after prison.

Recognizing this shortage, Fortune’s Food and Nutrition Program aims to give each participant the sustenance they need to thrive. Through a robust set of initiatives, it addresses systemic disparities in health by providing healthy meals, increasing access to fruits and vegetables through partnerships with local farming communities, and offering nutrition education classes.

The impact of these initiatives is tremendous. In 2017 alone, Fortune provided:

– 41,436 nutritious meals to Fortune participants


– 21,254 pounds of New York State-grown produce to low-income New Yorkers


– 47 cooking demonstrations and 14 nutrition education workshops to promote healthy eating


Through cooking demonstrations, The Fortune Society helps people learn healthy eating habits after prison

These results extend beyond Fortune participants, positively affecting their families and the neighborhoods they call home. Plus, healthy foods and eating habits aren’t just relegated to one program at Fortune. In conjunction with Food and Nutrition, the Benefits Application Assistance (Single Stop) program helps participants overcome food insecurity by helping them navigate the SNAP (Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program) benefits application process. And, through Culinary Arts training, Fortune’s Employment Services program equips participants with the knowledge to both succeed in the workforce and create healthy meals.

Atop the rooftop at the Castle Gardens, Fortune’s supportive housing development in West Harlem, individuals also learn how to cultivate fresh vegetables and herbs from the ground up. It’s a beautiful reflection of the Fortune community at-large: By planting seeds of health and nutrition through compassionate services, each participant has the opportunity to grow beyond their past and lead fulfilling lives.

Horticulture programs provided by The Fortune Society help people cultivate fresh produce after prison

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*Article by Root Stitches LLC

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