USDA Visit Prelude to Chicago Hunger Summit

ProMedica and its Come to the Table community partners are working in several areas to end hunger in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, including helping provide breakfast to students, ensuring low-income residents have access to healthy groceries and giving some guidance to home child care providers, U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon learned on a recent trip to Toledo.

Children’s Hunger Alliance, for example, is partnering with Toledo Public Schools to provide breakfast to more students through a federal reimbursement program funded by the USDA. Daily participation in the school district’s breakfast program has nearly doubled since a pilot was established in March 2012.

Making sure students have free and reduced-price meals through USDA-funded programs helps youngsters better focus on learning, as well as cuts down on absenteeism, said Concannon, USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services.

“If you’re not going to be there, you’re not going to learn much,” he said. “Schools have a tough job, but they can really make a different in the lives of these youngsters.”

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Come to the Table

Concannon recently visited ProMedica to learn more about, and offer advice on, aspects of ProMedica’s collaborative Come to the Table advocacy initiative to end hunger. He also was the featured speaker during the national Come to the Table hunger summit in February 2014 in Washington, D.C., which was held by ProMedica in partnership with the Alliance to End Hunger.

The USDA will again be a central part of ProMedica and the Alliance’s regional Come to the Table hunger summit in downtown Chicago on May 14, 2014. Audrey Rowe, Administrator for the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, is the keynote speaker for that free half-day event at The University Club, 76 E. Monroe St., Chicago.

The regional summit in Chicago, which will be held from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m., features discussions by a wide array of experts on hunger and health. For more information about the May 14 event, including a link to register, please visit www.promedica.org/cometothetablesummit.

National Effort

ProMedica is encouraging healthcare systems nationwide to join in addressing hunger as a health issue. Central to ProMedica’s approach to end hunger is working with social service agencies, government leaders, businesses, and other community partners.

To support non-profit partners providing basic needs services – including food, clothing and shelter – ProMedica annually awards grants totaling about $300,000 on average through the ProMedica Advocacy Fund. ProMedica also provides other financial and volunteer support to community non-profits, and it has started some of its own programs, such as adding healthy groceries to The Flower Market to help lower-income residents in the neighborhood near ProMedica Toledo Hospital.

As part of a tightly woven security net, ProMedica wants to give low-income residents facing hunger access to nutritious food and the means to help them provide for themselves. Programs that include job training and other education are among the best options, said Barbara Petee, ProMedica chief advocacy and government relations officer.

“Our goal is not to ‘food bank’ people for life,” she told the USDA’s Concannon during his recent visit.

Community Partners

Concannon also met with leaders from two local Come to the Table partners, Children’s Hunger Alliance and Seagate Foodbank of Northwest Ohio.

Children’s Hunger Alliance was given kudos from Concannon for assisting home child care providers with both food reimbursements and nutrition guidance through an USDA program. That is one program Children’s Hunger Alliance, which opened a Toledo office in 2011, wants to expand in the area, said Wendi Huntley, northwest regional director of Children’s Hunger Alliance.

“A lot of folks are in need in our state, and we want to help them,” said Huntley, whose organization also provides children with afterschool meals.

Among other programs, Concannon also learned about an eight-week Seagate Foodbank course that teaches young parents cooking, canning, produce preparation, food sanitation, and other skills. Graduates are given equipment and recipes once they have a stable living environment, and five have gone on to get more education and work in the foodservice industry.

Hunger Screening

ProMedica also gave Concannon details of various programs it has in the works, including its patient hunger-screening program that will be in all ProMedica hospitals by the end of 2014.

Five of ProMedica’s hospitals currently screen patients for hunger through questions asked during the admission process. A social worker or other employee follows up with patients who may be experiencing hunger or food insecurity, and those who need it are sent home with an emergency food supply and connected to community resources for further assistance.

To help develop and deploy sustainable healthcare solutions to end hunger, contact CTTT@promedica.org or 419-469-3894. Join the ongoing discussion about hunger and health in the comments below or on Twitter using #CTTT2014.

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