Stanford Community Answers Call to Confront Food Insecurity

Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford Launches New Support Program to Address Food Insecurity

It takes a village to feed a community, especially during a pandemic.

With COVID-19, the usual ways to get food to families who are food insecure have been disrupted, both in and out of the hospital. The challenge ignited people across the Stanford campus to come together and get creative to feed families.

“In the community, area food banks have been overwhelmed trying to keep up with the need—especially at first, when they would often run out of key items like peanut butter, tuna, and baby formula,” says Janine Bruce, DrPH, MPH, program director of Stanford Medicine’s Pediatric Advocacy Program.

Add in all of the families who lost income during the pandemic that are new to receiving food support, along with community food programs that have stopped service because of COVID-19, and the need became real incredibly fast. Family-centered care began working with others at Packard Children’s to continue supporting families.

“In the hospital, parents couldn’t take turns leaving their child’s bedside to get food, let alone food that was affordable and culturally appropriate, because visitor access was limited to one person at a time,” says Lisa Chamberlain, MD, pediatrician at Gardner Packard Children’s Health Center and a pioneer of the medical school’s food insecurity community efforts. The Stanford community is known for its generous, responsive spirit, and ideas and connections started flowing quickly. A village was formed among various teams at Packard Children’s, including social services, food services, volunteer services, and family-centered care, along with the Association of Auxiliaries for Children and the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health. The collective group collaborated to feed families with children staying in the hospital, and address the needs of those facing food insecurity.

Yet their reach didn’t end there. They wanted to help families after the families returned home, so they teamed up with Stanford Medicine’s Pediatric Advocacy Program to tap into its long-established community food insecurity programs.

“Everybody got on board to offer support during these uncertain times. It was wonderful,” says Rachel Kozlowski, manager of Family-Centered Care at Packard Children’s.

Feeding families in the hospital

Feeding families at Packard Children’s isn’t a new idea. Volunteers with the Association of Auxiliaries for Children created a program called Packard Pantry in 2013 to feed families of children staying in the hospital. The team of volunteers got together twice a month to create 15 food bags, complete with ready-made meals and food from Second Harvest of Silicon Valley. Those efforts were put on pause at the start of the pandemic.

“When we learned that families couldn’t leave to get food, we decided to create snack bags that could be delivered to the bedside. We see it as an extension of Packard Pantry and a way for us to continue to fulfill our mission,” says Angie Hollman, a longtime auxiliary volunteer.

The snack bags were created because family centered care and social work were doing daily check-ins with families in the hospital. They heard stories every day that families were getting by. One mom shared that she did not have anything to eat on the days her husband was working, because he could not drop off food for her. Similarly, the team found that on any given day 20 percent of families they spoke to had a hard time getting food at home, in the hospital or both. These findings were presented to the Foundation, and a $50,000 grant was issued to help address the needs specifically in the hospital. Snack bags and vouchers were made possible through the grant, and auxiliary volunteers who run Packard Pantry have been key partners in the implementation.

Snack bags are created through a joint effort that includes family-centered care, volunteer services, social work and auxiliary volunteers

With social distancing and plenty of gloves, masks, and hand sanitizer, the auxiliary volunteers got together recently to create 100 snack bags with fruit cups, microwaveable mac and cheese, energy bars, crackers, and drink boxes. When they run out, the volunteers will do it again.

“I can only imagine how hard it is to arrive at the hospital in crisis with a critically ill child and needing food. If I can help in any way, it’s important that I do so,” Hollman adds.

Besides the new snack bag program, the hospital provides 50 to 100 meals a day for families who need help accessing food. The meals, some supplied by local restaurants, are grab-and-go ready at the Harvest Café. Thanks to a grant from the foundation, meal vouchers are also available to families.

“Since the end of May, we’ve given out over 600 meal vouchers for our cafeteria,” Kozlowski says. “These collective efforts make up a new Food Support Program here at Packard Children’s.”

The new hospital program is evolving and changing every day. Family centered care continues working with Dr. Chamberlain and others at Packard Children’s to support families as the pandemic continues.

Continuing care after families return home

Stanford Medicine’s Pediatric Advocacy Program initiated a suite of programs for food insecurity in 2012. Since the start of the pandemic, they’ve greatly expanded their community-wide efforts to feed families in the Bay Area.

“We’ve purchased 17,000 pounds of food for families in San Mateo County and Santa Clara County, thanks to a grant from the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health,” says Melanie Ramirez, program manager. “We also started a food drive internally with Packard Children’s and the School of Medicine employees. The first drive generated over 80 bags of food that we distributed to community organizations, including Head Start.”

The program also distributed 37,000 diapers—an item that’s been in short supply because of the pandemic. Along with that, baby formula.

“One mom told me, ‘I was choosing between diapers and food for my child.’ We’re really proud to expand our efforts in this way and cut through barriers with creativity for our families,” Ramirez says.

Because the program had already established a sound network of community partners, they were able to roll out new efforts quickly, using that same network for distribution.

“Our impact is amplified by our partnerships with community agencies. We make such a bigger impact together than we could ever make separately,” Bruce says.

Dr. Chamberlain appreciates having resources to offer her families who come in hungry. Since its start, the Pediatric Advocacy Program, in partnership with local community organizations, has distributed thousands of meals via their school-based summer meals and lunch at the library programs.

“COVID-19 has hit food-insecure families especially hard, so it’s satisfying to know that, with great confidence and excitement, we can offer solutions for them,” Dr. Chamberlain concludes.


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