Fruit cart vouchers help patients eat healthy to stay well

Videography by Rachel Glass


UI Hospital patients can change their lives the moment they step outside the clinic, thanks to a new voucher program that provides them with immediate access to fresh fruit.

The program gives patients $1 fruit vouchers for each visit — enough for two items at a nearby fruit cart, a joint venture between UIC and Neighbor Capital.

More than 4,500 vouchers were redeemed in August; over 11,000 vouchers have been used since May.

“Some regular patients rely on this as part of their affordable access to fresh fruit,” says Lauren Hughes, the fourth-year medical student who developed the program.

Hughes raised money for the voucher program on Reddit’s Chicago page and Her initial goal was $5,000, but she raised more than $10,000 with additional sponsorship from departments in the College of Medicine. The voucher program now has enough funds to run through October and Hughes is confident it will continue next summer. Email her at to learn how to donate.

Hughes began the program as a first-year medical student, working with Patricia Finn, head of the department of medicine, and Stephen B. Brown, associate director of preventive emergency medicine.

The team partnered with Neighbor Capital and Streetwise, which offers transitional jobs to recently homeless or formerly incarcerated people. The first fruit cart opened outside the hospital in 2013, supplying fresh fruit in a food desert.

The voucher program is another step towards changing people’s health, Brown said. “So much of chronic disease is tied to lifestyle choices, and we wanted to help physicians have that crucial conversation with their patients.”

Brown says eating healthy foods now can reduce the need for medications later. “The voucher program was a way to encourage that. We thought it would be a really great catalyst, because diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity are all related to what you eat and how you eat.”

UIC Fruit Cart at Taylor and Wood, in front of the University of Illinois Hospital, partnered with Neighbor Capital and Streetwise.

“From the time I open to the time I close, I’m always busy,” says fruit cart vendor Alisha Reynolds. Photo: Rachel Glass

People are taking advantage of the opportunity to make a positive lifestyle change, said fruit cart vendor Alisha Reynolds. “From the time I open to the time I close, I’m always busy.”

Reynolds has been working for Neighbor Capital and Streetwise for two years; she became a fruit cart vendor at the Outpatient Center location in July. The transitional program helped Reynolds develop her sales skills and offered the opportunity to get a food sanitation license.

She says she enjoys her job at the fruit cart, making a positive impact on people’s health. “When I pass out fruit to patients, it cheers them up and makes them feel better.”

Her work may lead to a life change of her own. By encouraging customers to redeem their vouchers and helping them choose fruit, she’s discovered she wants to be a chef.

“I love food, I love tasting it, trying new things. I’m spontaneous, so I like cooking because you never know what to do and you can just put things together. That’s why I want to be a chef. I want to cook.”

The fruit cart is open Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. outside the Outpatient Care Center at the corner of Taylor and Wood streets.

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