McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton launches pilot program to provide food to patients and families

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Published March 30, 2023 at 3:34 pm

A new program at McMaster Children’s Hospital will provide free food for patients and their families who are struggling with food insecurity.

Launching on Monday, April 3, the Food Pantry pilot program will be available to families visiting the hospital’s emergency department (ED) or Children’s Exercise & Nutrition Centre (CENC).

Families can take home a variety of food products including canned soups, fruits, vegetables, proteins and grains, with vegetarian, vegan and halal options. There are also a number of meal kits available: Bean Chili & Rice, Chicken & Rice Soup, Pasta with Lentils, and Beef Stew.

The hospital says families that want to participate in the program can request food without having to provide proof of need.

McMaster Children’s Hospital is currently partnered with a local Fortinos which is providing the hospital with discounted food, and is looking to partner with more food providers over time.

“Our Food Pantry won’t solve food insecurity because that’s a much larger societal issue, but it does allow our teams to support patients and their families in the short term as partners in helping their children get better,” says Jennifer Fabe, a registered dietitian and clinical specialist at the hospital.

The only requirement to participate in the program is having a child be a patient in the ED or CENC.

The new program is being launched in response to a recent study from the hospital, which found that a surprisingly high number of families are struggling with having enough access to food.

 

From September to December 2021, families bringing a child to the ED were asked to complete a survey screening for food insecurity, along with health and demographic information.

According to the survey results, 26 per cent identified as experiencing food insecurity, up from 22.7 per cent in 2012.

Less than half of the respondents reported using a food charity such as a food bank, while one quarter reported receiving help from family or friends.

“The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the financial hardship faced by many families,” says the study’s lead author, Ellie MacBain, a pediatric resident doctor.

“Food insecurity is associated with a number of adverse child health outcomes and increased ED use. We found families of children with chronic medical conditions and families with caregivers born outside of Canada were especially affected by food insecurity.”

The report was published by MacBain as well as Mohamed Eltorki, Stacey Marjerrison, Alim Pardhan, Gita Wahi and Quang Ngo, all doctors at McMaster Children’s Hospital.

While it’s currently a common practice for hospitals to provide food to the visiting family members of patients, McMaster Children’s Hospital believes its Food Pantry program may be the first of its kind to allow families to take food home with them.

More information on the program is available at the hospital’s website.

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