Fighting Hunger in Our Neighborhoods

I have previously written about hunger, and it continues to be a significant problem for many, many children in our country. Sometimes problems of this scale feel a bit overwhelming and it is difficult to know how to begin tackling them. Dr. Lisa Chamberlain, assistant professor of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine, and pediatric residents at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital have not let the scope of the problem daunt them. They have partnered with community organizations to fight food insecurity and hunger in an area neighborhood. Today I’d like to highlight their amazing work. They are true child health advocates in action.

Food insecurity among children is currently at record levels. In the bay area of California, one of the most prosperous areas in the country, one in four members of our community is at risk of hunger. In her clinic in East Palo Alto, Dr. Chamberlain began noting more and more families who were in need of food. She related a number of examples to the Peninsula Press,

“She (Chamberlain) has witnessed a disturbing decline in the economic well-being of many families. The doctor recalled an encounter from last fall when a mother, breast-­feeding an infant, shared that she was hungry most of the time. “I had known this family for four years and they hadn’t experienced such hardships before,” Chamberlain said. Another family brought in a 5-year-old to see her for a routine exam. When the mother confided that they were struggling to make ends meet, Chamberlain referred them to local nonprofits and handed out farmers market vouchers.”

These types of stories have not been unusual in Dr. Chamberlain’s practice. What is unusual, she says, is the frequency with which parents are expressing a lack of food and the depth of the need of some families. She notes that the second family mentioned above returned to her clinic the following week, not for any “medical” need, but in search of more farmer’s market vouchers. The kids had loved the fruits and vegetables that their mother had been able to buy and she wanted to get them more. Dr. Chamberlain’s diagnosis for this visit: the great recession.

For the past few years Dr. Chamberlain has been working with a community organization, the Ecumenical Hunger Program, which partners with St. Vincent de Paul to prepare and serve meals in the area. They determined that area kids had the greatest risk of hunger in the summer, when school meals are not available, and decided to do something about it.

By mobilizing Stanford’s medical community, along with East Palo Alto’s community organizations, the coalition was able to provide over 13,000 meals to children in need over five weeks this past summer. They also continue their efforts to provide meals for children to take home over the weekends during the school year.

Given the detrimental impact of hunger on children’s health, development, and academic performance, the importance of combating food insecurity cannot be overstated. Indeed, in some cases it is this kind of work, outside of the clinic walls, where health care providers can make the most impact on a child’s overall health.

Many thanks to journalist, Saman Ghani Khan, who generously provided much of the information for this post. Her full story on this work, well worth the read, can be found here.

Learn more about programs fighting hunger.

  • The publicly funded programs work in concert with a network of privately funded food banks.  Find out what is available in your area.  Feeding America‘s website is a good place to start.

Finally, there are many families on the East Coast who are at increased risk of hunger right now due to the impact of Superstorm Sandy. If you can’t be there in person to volunteer, a donation to the American Red Cross is one way to help these communities.

What creative efforts to combat hunger are going on in your community?

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