Helping Families Access Food During the Holidays

December 6, 2023 by Melissa Baiyewu, MHA, CHES & Emily Frymark, MS, RDN, CDCES, LDN

The Children’s National and HSC Health Care System Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) Healthy Food workgroup is working to improve access to healthy foods for children and families, where community food resources are limited and the level of child opportunity to thrive is low. In this work, we recognize it is important to emphasize collaboration and engagement in the community to see success. Recently, members of the workgroup were fortunate to partner and participate in a community service activity in preparation for the Thanksgiving holiday. At Bread for the City , our group aided in the food distribution center and the food pantry at The Michelle Obama Southeast Center in Ward 8 of Washington, DC. During this service, we were able to support the annual signature Holiday Helpings program that distributes food to thousands of DC families living on a low – income during the holiday season.

Six of us gathered at Bread for the City (first image). Our day started off with meeting one of the volunteer coordinators who, after checking us all in, presented a detailed overview of the organization’s history, mission, and its impact in the community, since its inception back in 1976. Bread for the City is a non – profit organization that provides comprehensive services such as food, clothing, diapers, and legal and social support. The organization also provides primary medical care as a designated Federally Qualified Health Center. Their ability to address medical and non-medical needs reinforces how important it is that we collectively continue to provide the best clinical care in addition to addressing the social determinants that influence one’s overall health and well – being. To conclude the presentation, we were then able to hear in more depth about their year-round food program that serves nearly 11,000 clients that experience food insecurity every month.

Chaya Merrill, Director of the CHAI Child Health Data Lab and Clinical Pediatric Dieticians, Emily Frymark and Sarah Roberts in the food pantry at Bread for the City, in between clients that they are assisting with selecting groceries to take home to their families in preparation for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Sara Beck, Manager of Feeding and Swallowing Programs at the HSC Health Care System, Melissa Baiyewu, CHAI Program Manager of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and Julia DeAngelo, CHAI Program Manager of School Strategies, pausing for a moment to take a picture in the food distribution center at Bread for the City, amidst packing and preparing grocery bags that will be delivered to home – bound individuals and their families throughout DC.

Our group was then split into two teams. One team was assigned to help bag produce and groceries that were set to be delivered to home – bound seniors and individuals with disabilities through a partnership that Bread for the City has with DoorDash, a national food delivery platform. The other team was able to help participants “shop” for groceries in the food pantry, which included a choice of turkey or chicken, fresh and nutritious produce such as grapefruit, bananas, carrots, peppers, and potatoes to go along with their bags full of holiday fixings such as cornbread mix and canned vegetables. Participants were provided with enough food to feed their families, determined by family size during the check – in process.

We all worked together, driven by common goals to alleviate hunger and the burden of financial difficulty around the holidays and foster a community of support. The encounters with the people receiving food that day, all in good spirits and with a smile on their face, really humanized the statistics and made the issue around food insecurity, much more personal. With our assistance, we were able to help Bread for the City reach their goal of distributing 12,500 Thanksgiving turkeys or chicken, and holiday groceries to equip families with the primary staples they needed to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. Additionally, we also contributed a total of 18 community benefit hours in total for our participation in this one event. This was meaningful to our group, as we understand the difficulty in accessing food daily for some families is so great, that food – centered holidays and celebrations many times are avoided, which can create despair or sadness at a time that is meant to be fun and joyous. It was great to get some of our workgroup members together outside of Zoom, for a good cause and we are grateful for the experience and acknowledge Bread for the City for being an amazing partner and support in our community. We look forward to additional opportunities to participate in community benefit activities and partner with other organizations leading the charge to address food insecurity in our community.

Header photo by Nico Smit on Unsplash.

About the author

Melissa Baiyewu, MHA, CHES

Program Manager of Health Promotion & Disease Prevention within the Child Health Advocacy Institute at Children's National Hospital

Emily Frymark, MS, RDN, CDCES, LDN

Clinical Pediatric Dietician within the Endocrinology and Diabetes Division at Children's National Hospital