Published on in Children's View
Because of a Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia community initiative called Healthier Together and the generous donors who helped fund it, Kaleeia Ham fed her children eggplant parmesan for dinner one night in July. It was a big deal.
Her family is one of 344 low-income CHOP patient families that receive a free, weekly box of produce as part of Healthier Together’s partnership with Food Connect, The Common Market, The Enterprise Center and the United States Department of Agriculture. Kaleeia has an autoimmune disease that prevents her from working and, during the COVID-19 pandemic, keeps her mostly inside her home. “Disability checks only go so far,” she says. “It’s a struggle to put good food on the table. The produce boxes, delivered right to my door, help me provide healthy food for my children without having to go to the store.”
So when an eggplant was in the box one week, Kaleeia searched the internet for recipes and ended up with a dish her two children loved. “It turned out so good!” she says proudly. “My son asked for seconds.”
The produce box program is an example of a growing group of community impact initiatives under the Healthier Together umbrella. Healthier Together’s expansion was jumpstarted through funds raised by the 2019 Runway, CHOP’s one-of-a-kind fashion show. Each new initiative seeks to address nonmedical factors that can negatively affect a child’s health.
“The overarching theme is prevention,” says Amanda Evans, Program Manager for Healthier Together. “Our main focuses — housing, hunger, trauma and poverty — are all aligned.”
Priorities came from an analysis of the Philadelphia area’s healthcare disparities, matched against CHOP’s vast experience in community health. CHOP decided to concentrate its efforts on the three ZIP codes surrounding the hospital to ensure a deep and measurable impact. “We want to show we have moved the needle in these specific areas,” says Alonzo South, Senior Director for Community Engagement.
CHOP teams up with nonprofits and government agencies on each project to leverage expertise, skills and local connections. For example, during the campaign For Tomorrow’s Breakthroughs, CHOP’s asthma prevention program was expanded to include free repairs to remove asthma triggers in the homes of children with difficult-to-control asthma. The work is performed by local minority- and women-owned contractors whenever possible. Each finished home not only reduces a child’s need for Emergency Department visits, but also fuels economic development in West and Southwest Philadelphia.
For individual families, Healthier Together supports free tax preparation and financial counseling to provide tools for financial empowerment. These efforts resulted in $435,000 in tax refunds and 323 financial counseling sessions, which boosted the credit score of 35% of clients and increased savings of 50% of clients.
Another program, Growing Resilience in Teens, aims to proactively address trauma — crime, bullying, family disruption, drug abuse and more — that takes a toll on mental health and to lower adolescents’ risks of exposure. It is made possible through a generous grant from TD Bank.
CHOP made a commitment of $25 million over five years to fund Healthier Together. The goal for sustainability beyond that is to advocate for government or insurance reimbursement, since programs improve children’s health, and to rely even more on philanthropy.
This initiative will continue to have a tangible effect on improving the health of vulnerable children.