Employees of the summer food program Summer Food Service Program in CHOP’s ED Emergency Department physician Danielle Cullen, MD, MPH, MSHP, is painfully aware of the hunger too many children in Philadelphia experience.

The statistics are startling: More than 38 percent of Philadelphia children, some 130,800 kids, live in poverty. In the summer, when school-age children can’t take advantage of free meals at school, food insecurity grows.

“From earlier research, we knew that about a third of the families that came to the Emergency Department (ED) were food insecure,” says Cullen, meaning they lacked reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. “We see nearly 100,000 patients a year, so that’s over 30,000 children who could be hungry.”

Finding partners

Working with CHOP’s Community Relations team, Cullen, ED nurse practitioner Morgan Mirth, MSN, CPNP-PC, and their ED collaborators developed a partnership with the Archdioceses of Philadelphia, already a SFSP provider, to make and bring meals to CHOP. They worked with CHOP’s Security Department and Aramark, CHOP's food service vendor, to plan for delivery and safe food storage.

To deliver the meals to families, the ED group turned to interns in CHOP Career Path. Career Path is a program that helps young adults with chronic illness and/or disabilities bridge the gap between high school and the working world by providing job coaches and internships at CHOP.

Then the organizers got agreement that any leftover meals would be shared with families that bring children to CHOP’s Fostering Health Program.

This is how it works: Once a nurse determines a child age 2 to 18 is cleared to eat (because food won’t interfere with any treatment), families are offered meals for the child, any siblings present, and parent if under the age of 18. Boxed meals, complete with a sandwich, a side, fruit or vegetables, and milk, are delivered by a Career Path intern.

Sharing info is critical

Deliveries also include information on the Summer Food Service Program and how families can find meal locations close to their homes. “Sharing that information is a key component, since only one of 10 children who is eligible for SFSP meals in Philadelphia takes advantage of the program,” Cullen says. One easy way to access sites is to send a text with the word “food” or “comida” to 877877 to connect to an automated service that lists sites by zip code.

The first summer, the ED ran a seven-week pilot to test the concept. It was a huge success. They distributed more than 50 meals a week, and families and clinicians were thrilled with the results.

Of the families who completed a survey, 88 percent thought a hospital was a good location for a SFSP, 91 percent reported the process was easy and 92 percent were comfortable with the process of being offered and receiving a meal in the ED. As busy as the ED can be, the doctors and nurses who work there did not see the lunch program as interfering or delaying care for the children.

“We want to make any impact we can to combat hunger,” Cullen says. “We’re excited for the program to expand to more CHOP locations in future summers.”

Summer Food Service Program in CHOP’s ED includes:

A boxed meal — complete with a sandwich, a side, fruit or vegetables, and milk — and information on the Summer Food Service Program and how families can find meal locations close to their homes. Meals are delivered by Career Path interns.

In Philadelphia:

  • 38% of children live in poverty
  • 22% of children are affected by food insecurity
  • 130,800 kids face food insecurity in the summer
  • Only 1 in 10 eligible children gets meals from the Summer Food Service Program

Sources: Pew Charitable Trusts, Philadelphia’s Poor, 2017. Feeding America, Map the Food Gap, 2018.

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