A total of 40 children’s hospitals across 14 states have received funding this fall through Rite Aid Healthy Futures’ Connecting Communities grant program, which will support food-security programs at a time when children are increasingly facing the harsh realities and stressors of inadequate access to nutritious food and alarming rates of related childhood diseases.
Individual grants range from $25,000 to $300,000, with a total of $4.6 million awarded this year.
Grants support a range of community programs at the various hospitals, including hunger screenings, food distribution programs, community gardens and disease-prevention programs.
Hunger in the United States soared in 2022, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report that found more than 44 million people lived in food-insecure households last year, a 31% increase from the prior year. Hunger among children rose even more—by 45%—with more than 13 million children experiencing food insecurity, according to the report.
“Children’s hospitals are on the front lines seeing and treating the profound effects of hunger, food apartheid and systemic racism in communities across our nation every day,” said Matt DeCamara, executive director of Rite Aid Healthy Futures. “Treating food as medicine and engaging communities in programs that stabilize food access, reduce disease prevalence and create local sovereignty builds healthier and more resilient children, families and neighborhoods. It is imperative to act with purpose and urgency to address the food insecurity crisis. We are proud to partner with so many leading health care systems to ensure pathways to many healthier tomorrows.”
Launched in 2021, the Connecting Communities program directs funding to anchor institutions, such as hospitals, that nurture and promote health equity for children, especially those who may already be receiving medical care or living with a serious illness.
This fall’s allocation marks the third round of grant funding Healthy Futures has issued through Connecting Communities signature initiative. Grants are made possible by the generosity of customers who round up their purchase through Rite Aid’s KidCents program.
The impact of the Connecting Communities grant will be felt along the East Coast, Midwest and West Coast, with an emphasis on New York, California and Pennsylvania.
John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital in Buffalo is in a county that experiences food insecurity at a 25% higher rate than the rest of New York state. Connecting Communities grant funding will help the hospital serve more than 2,500 individuals through mobile food markets, support bi-weekly deliveries of fresh food boxes to patients and fund a commercial refrigerator and cabinet at the newly established outpatient clinic.
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“This program will address those root issues of food access for children and families living in Western New York’s most underserved and vulnerable neighborhoods,” said Stephen Turkovich, president of John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital. “Nearly 70% of families receiving care at OCH qualify for Medicaid, with that number reaching 90% in its pediatric clinics. And 43% of children in Buffalo live below the poverty line, one of the highest rates in the nation. By breaking down barriers to food access, we’re working toward a day when no child goes to bed hungry.”
On the other side of the country in San Bernardino County, where 14.9% of children are considered food insecure, Loma Linda University Children’s Health will use Connecting Communities funding to increase the capacity of its Food Secure and Healing Initiative. The program gives families access to specialized services, guidance and resources centered around the social determinants of health—including food.
“We are grateful to Rite Aid Healthy Futures for their generous grant, which will be instrumental in advancing our Food Secure & Healing initiative,” said Peter Baker, senior vice president and administrator at Loma Linda University Children’s Health. This vital funding will allow us to further our mission of eradicating food insecurity among our young patients and their families, particularly in these challenging times where the need is more pressing than ever. We remain committed to providing exemplary medical care and ensuring all children in our care have access to nutritious food and a foundation for a healthy future.”
Many of the partnered hospitals are part of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, which raises funds to support life-saving treatments, healthcare services and innovative research. Members of the CMN Hospitals network treat 12 million children a year while providing 38 million patient visits.