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Making Food Pantries More Accessible to Families

September 12, 2023

Almost 40 million Americans are food-insecure, meaning that they don’t have consistent access to enough food to meet their dietary needs, and studies have shown an association between food insecurity and adverse child health outcomes. However, many people who are food-insecure may not feel comfortable with or have access to community food banks.

In Louisville, KY, where >20% of adults report that they have experienced food insecurity, Dr. Britt Anderson and colleagues from the University of Louisville set up a food pantry in the pediatric emergency department at Norton’s Children’s Hospital. Their experience is published this week in Pediatrics in an Advocacy Case Study, along with a video abstract, entitled “Establishing a Permanent Food Pantry in a Pediatric Emergency Department” (10.1542/peds.2023-061757).

Non-perishable food was delivered by a local food bank on a monthly basis. Because of concerns about potential negative consequences of screening for food insecurity, the authors decided to offer a bag of food to all families without screening. Asking parents to select foods from a checklist turned out to be very time-intensive, so the authors eventually settled on pre-packaged reusable bags of food. Each bag included:

  • Canned fruits and vegetables
  • Soups
  • Beans
  • Rice
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Shelf-stable milk
  • Cereal
  • Information about resources, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Children, and Infants (WIC), and community organizations

During the 15 months of data collection, 55% of families who were offered a bag of food accepted it. Each bag cost approximately $11, and the total cost of the program was $25,000, funded by the Norton Children’s Hospital Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Norton’s Children’s Hospital. The food pantry is still active today, has attracted funding from other entities, and the community has continued to be enthusiastic about the program.

The authors speculate that the success of the program may be partly attributed to the lack of barriers to getting food – because families are merely asked whether they would like a bag of food, rather than being asked questions about their financial status, and because families don’t have to find transportation to go to a food bank.

Take a look at this article and video abstract. Perhaps this is something that you would like to try to implement in your community!

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