Often, low-income families have to decide between buying groceries or paying bills. This year, Atrium Health has partnered with Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina to help make these decisions a little easier.

Child Health, Family Health | 3 years ago

When Children Don't Eat, They Don't Learn: How We're Helping to Change That

Studies show that children who have access to regular nutritious meals throughout the day will have better health outcomes and perform better in school. Often, low-income families have to decide between buying groceries or paying bills. This year, Atrium Health has partnered with Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina to help make these decisions a little easier.

Nearly 188,000 children in the greater Charlotte area are at risk of hunger every day. And when children don’t eat, they have trouble learning. Atrium Health and Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina have teamed up to help change this problem.

Earlier this year, we traveled to 10 different schools throughout 10 counties in our region to provide families in these communities a way to get groceries close to where they live. The School Based Mobile Pantry (SBMP) program - also known as Mobile Food Pantry - provides an average of 40 to 50 pounds of fresh food to families of students at targeted schools in high-poverty areas.

What makes this program unique?

The Mobile Food Pantry is an extension of Second Harvest’s Backpack Program, which provides a bookbag full of nutritious, ready-to-eat or easy-to-prepare foods that’s sent home with students on weekends and holidays when school meals aren’t available.

During a Mobile Food Pantry event, a larger refrigerated truck comes to a designated school, stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables, bread, meat, eggs and dairy items, as well as shelf staples. Each family is then gifted 12 to 14 grocery items. Essential non-food items, such as toothpaste, are additionally provided to families as an extra resource.

“These families are making the difficult decision of buying groceries or paying their utility bills, medications, or transportation,” says Holli Helms, senior community benefit manager for Atrium Health. “We’re thrilled to support and partner with an organization like Second Harvest that can help make these decisions a little easier.”   

Partnering with schools

Second Harvest takes the lead on informing families about upcoming events and dates that the Mobile Food Pantry is scheduled to be held through participating school systems. The schools then inform families of event details using fliers, social media messaging, automated call reminders and marquee signage on school properties.

“We try to get the word out there that anyone is welcome to attend,” says Helms. “Every single family in the school is invited to take part in these events – there’s no criteria that’s required for participation.”  

An intimate exchange

The Mobile Food Pantry program relies on volunteers from Atrium Health to give their time to help operate the events. At each school, about two dozen volunteers – from emergency room staff to administrative workers – help organize the donations and carry the food to cars for families.

“It’s a great opportunity for our employees to have that direct contact with those in our community,” says Helms. “It’s a very intimate exchange because we have an interaction with the families and have meaningful conversations with families benefiting from the program.”

Courtney Swain, an Atrium Health employee who volunteered at a school in Stanly County, remembers one family that was overcome with gratitude for fresh groceries.

"I welcomed a mother of four to the pantry and gave her a ticket. I told her that the ticket was for chicken and eggs. Tears began welling up in her eyes as her son was jumping for joy at her leg that they were going to get meat, and she began to tell me that she had never been to anything like the food pantry before,” Swain recalls. “The Mobile Food Pantries allow teammates to carry out our mission: To improve health, elevate hope and advance healing – for all.”

The Mobile Food Pantry served more than 1,200 families this past spring, and volunteers are gearing up to repeat the efforts again in the fall at the same schools. Atrium Health and Second Harvest have a goal of helping to feed 2,500 families through this program by the end of the year.

Fall/Winter 2018-19 Dates and Locations:

Available Dates '18-19
 School Name
Monday, Sept. 17, 2018
Woodrow Wilson Elementary
Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018
Morven Elementary
Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018
W.M. Irvin Elementary
Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018
University Meadows
Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018
Lebanon Elementary
Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018
Bruns Elementary
Monday, Dec. 03, 2018
East Elementary
Wednesday, Dec. 05, 2018
Ebenezer Elementary
Monday, Jan. 07, 2019
Graham Elementary
Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019
FD Jack Kiser Intermediate School
Monday, Feb. 04, 2019
South Stanly Middle School
Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019
Woodhill Elementary