The Gift of Meals: How Our Pediatric Advocacy Program and a Community Partnership Brightened the Holiday Season

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Program served over 800 dinners for families who otherwise may have gone hungry

School cafeterias across San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties are abuzz today with the clanging of food trays as children head back from winter break. The excitement of the holidays also marked a time of uncertainty for many students who did not know where their next meal would come from.

Children from low-income families count on the daily meals they receive at school. But for parents struggling to make ends meet, school breaks present a real problem — one that Stanford’s Pediatric Advocacy Program has been trying to solve.

“We’ve been collaborating with the Ravenswood City School District, but they didn’t have the capacity to support meal programs during the break,” said Janine Bruce, DrPH, MPH, director of the Pediatric Advocacy Program. “The local public libraries stepped up to provide space and help us fill this hunger gap. It’s been amazing!”

The program and its collaborators served 600 meals at the San Mateo County Libraries in East Palo Alto and 210 meals at Half Moon Bay during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. That’s a grand total of 810 dinners for families who otherwise may have gone hungry.

HOW IT BEGAN

The Hunger Program is the brainchild of Bruce and Lisa Chamberlain, MD, MPH. It started four years ago after Chamberlain, a pediatrician at Ravenswood Family Health Center and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, saw many within her young patient population combating hunger and food insecurity.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food insecurity is a condition of limited or uncertain access to food.

“This program was established to bridge their vacations from school. Schools are a good place to get nutrition and these kids can’t go without someone filling this gap when school isn’t in session,” said Chamberlain, associate professor of pediatrics at the Stanford School of Medicine.

After offering meals during a similar program the last few summers, Chamberlain, Bruce and their community partners interviewed parents. It was then that parents expressed a great need for meals during the two-week winter break.

“Growing children are expensive. During the winter parents face higher heating bills and bills that come with holiday presents,” Chamberlain said. “Depending on the kind of work people do, many parents are day laborers and in the winter time, if it’s raining, they don’t have work. There’s no money coming in.”

“We presented the data to our feeding partners and they volunteered to collaborate with us to help fill this winter need,” said Chamberlain.

A TEAM EFFORT

What does it take to bring an idea to feed families to life? Collaboration.

The East Palo Alto Food Security Collaborative includes the Pediatric Advocacy Program, YMCA of Silicon Valley, Ravenswood City School District, Second Harvest Food Bank, San Jose Public and San Mateo County Libraries, Revolution Foods and others.

“The shared commitment of feeding children and families is at the core of the collaboration,” said Jennifer Puthoff, director of child care & after school programs at the YMCA of Silicon Valley. “Anyone interested in feeding kids wherever kids were convening, that’s where the Y wants to be.”

As federal funds only cover children’s meals, the adult meals also provided by the collaborative required an investment — and Second Harvest Food Bank, San Mateo County Library and Packard Children’s Hospital made this possible.

“We want to encourage families to eat together,” said Susan Takalo, director of community partnerships at Second Harvest. “We have found that more children eat when they eat with their parents.”

WHO’S HUNGRY?

An estimated 84,710 children in Santa Clara County and 28,630 children in San Mateo County experience food insecurity, according to Feeding America. And it’s not just about hunger — behavioral problems are another consequence of children’s food insecurity. And, meals at the libraries are a different approach to reaching the hardest to reach children and families.

“Children can’t learn if they’re hungry,” said Carine Risley, library services manager at the San Mateo County Library. “Our partners highlighted the critical food shortages that happen over holiday breaks, and it was an easy decision for us to help expand food service to support community wellbeing.”

MAKING A DIFFERNCE

The group is always thinking of new ways to make a difference.

“We all care about this issue deeply,” said Bruce. “Each of us brings different resources and expertise. It’s a collective impact and we thank all of our community partners for making this program so much greater than what we could do individually.”

For those who are experiencing hunger or food insecurity, or if you know someone who is in need, call the Second Harvest Food Bank’s Food Connection Hotline at 1-800-984-3663. You can learn about the resources available in your neighborhood and even menus for meals being served.

Discover more about our Pediatric Advocacy Program.

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