During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s not just the virus that strikes fear among families. For many who struggle financially and have lost jobs and other sources of income, the worry is even more immediate: How will we feed our children?

Healthier Together, a Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) community impact program, saw the need and took action with two initiatives.

Trays of pre-made meals CHOP partnered with the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) to provide family dinners for families living in two PHA communities in West/Southwest Philadelphia: Westpark Apartments and Bartram Village. Children’s Hospital also partnered with Food Connect to help it ramp up food deliveries during the pandemic. Both efforts support the goals of Healthier Together, which seeks to address nonmedical factors — such as poverty, housing, food insecurity and neighborhood safety — that play a huge role in determining if a child is healthy.

It’s dinner time

Healthier Together learned that, when schools closed in March for the remainder of the academic year, PHA had opened distribution sites to keep providing free breakfast and lunch for school-age children. Knowing that food insecurity was still the primary concern for families, CHOP reached out to Poor Richards Catering and funded this local, minority-owned business to prepare healthy, frozen dinners to be distributed at PHA sites.

“It’s a wonderful thing that Children’s Hospital is doing for families in need,” says Sylvia, who receives a free dinner each day when she picks up her 7-year-old grandson’s free breakfast and lunch at Bartram Village. “The food is really great, too. Every dinner has vegetables. My grandson loves them, and so do I.”

Over 10 weeks, Poor Richards made a total of 20,000 dinners for PHA families. Chicken parmesan, ziti with meatballs, turkey meatloaf, plus a daily vegetarian option were on the rotating menu.

“We are most grateful to CHOP for assisting our residents during this global emergency,” says PHA President and CEO Kelvin Jeremiah. “Access to good, nutritional meals is critical for families to maintain their health.”

Food boxes for families

CHOP’s partnership with Food Connect helped the nonprofit reach more families who were experiencing food insecurity.

Food Connect leverages smart technology to pick up donated food and deliver it to shelters and food pantries quickly and efficiently. When COVID-19 swept through the Philadelphia region, Food Connect recognized the need to expand its efforts in volume and scope by also delivering directly to families.

CHOP stepped up to help Food Connect increase its delivery capacity by supporting hiring additional dispatchers and delivery drivers.

CHOP’s partnership with Food Connect grew to include a collaboration with The Common Market, a nonprofit regional food distributor, to help even more families. With the help of a USDA grant, CHOP is providing 4,600 fresh food boxes delivered directly to patients' homes. Each box has fresh produce to feed a small family for one week.

“In addition to helping families feed their children, both the PHA dinners and Food Connect projects enabled us to meet another Healthier Together goal: promoting the economic health of West Philadelphia families and businesses,” says Alonzo South, Senior Director of Community Engagement for CHOP. “The 10-week PHA family meals program allowed Poor Richards Catering to stay open and continue paying its employees, and Food Connect hired 14 additional full- and part-time staff with our support.”

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