With a goal to expand equitable care and improve health outcomes for children in underserved and vulnerable neighborhoods, Rite Aid Healthy Futures has provided $3 million in grant funding to 34 children’s hospitals through its Connecting Communities signature initiative.
The goal of Connecting Communities is to help major institutions like children’s hospitals collaborate with the neighborhoods around them in new and deeper ways, and ultimately connect people and places with the resources needed to advance health and racial equity.
Initial funding will support a wide range of hospitals and their community-based programs across 15 states. Funded programs concentrate on screening for food insecurity, food distribution and nutrition education, and aim to help eliminate root obstacles that keep communities from achieving health and wellness.
“Expanding equitable care doesn’t start in the emergency room. It starts in our neighborhoods,” said Matt DeCamara, executive director of Rite Aid Healthy Futures. “Though the needs are great, so are the opportunities for progress. Children’s hospitals already play a critical role delivering vital medical care, and many of these institutions have developed impactful programs to serve kids, families and communities in ways that extend beyond traditional medical care. Working together, we can ensure everyone has what they need to live longer, healthier lives.”
Research shows that up to 80% of a person’s overall health can be traced to economic and social conditions other than medical care, such as nutrition, education, housing and income stability. These factors are known as the social determinants of health.
Connecting Communities aims to improve children’s health outcomes and prevent disease, including by ensuring children have healthy food. In addition to improving health outcomes, a healthy diet can help prevent obesity, heart disease, diabetes and more conditions that disproportionately affect minorities. But, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, just 1 in 10 U.S. adults and adolescents eat enough fruits and vegetables — the types of healthy foods difficult to find in low-income neighborhoods.
The programs funded through Connecting Communities will support tens of thousands of children and families by identifying those at risk of hunger, putting healthy food on their tables and providing nutrition education.
Spread across states such as California, New York, Michigan and Pennsylvania, grants of up to $500,000 fund some of the top healthcare institutions in the United States. All 34 hospitals receiving grants are part of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. CMN Hospitals treat 10 million kids a year across North America, addressing conditions such as cancer, diabetes, traumatic injuries and more.
“Children’s hospitals are on the frontlines when it comes to protecting the health of our future generations — but they aren’t alone,” said Teri Nestel, president and CEO of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. “With help from generous supporters like Rite Aid Healthy Futures, our member hospitals are empowered to explore further into their communities. We already see how Connecting Communities can serve as a new and innovative way to improve children’s health, inside and outside hospital walls.”
Children’s Hospital Los Angeles will use a $300,000 grant from Rite Aid Healthy Futures to expand its food access initiatives, identify opportunities for an onsite food pantry, support community gardens and establish a food access hub to coordinate its programs. It also will help expand existing hospital programs helping families with grocery gift cards, meal vouchers for visiting patients and families, gas cards and more.
“Children’s Hospital Los Angeles protects and saves lives every day, and our commitment to excellence goes beyond providing medical treatment,” said Rolando Gomez, director of community relations and strategic initiatives at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “As part of our Community Impact initiatives, CHLA has committed to increasing food access for families and educational opportunities for promoting health, which is essential to our mission of creating hope and building healthier futures for children.”
In New York, Northwell Health’s Cohen Children’s Medical Center will use $250,000 in grant funding to expand its Wellness on Wheels program, a comprehensive approach to addressing food access and food insecurity. Using a dedicated mobile van, WOW provides elementary school children and their families with healthy food, as well as educational programs on nutrition and physical fitness to support whole health. The grant will help Cohen Children’s reach another 6,000 students in targeted districts with this impactful program.
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“CCMC has steadily expanded its food access programming over the last several years with tremendous success. This programming has been particularly critical during the coronavirus pandemic during which time children and families already struggling with food access were further disconnected from the support systems they need,” said Charles Schleien, senior vice president and chair of pediatric services for Northwell Health. “The goal of Wellness on Wheels is to reduce food insecurity and the related consequences of malnutrition. Extending our programs through Wellness on Wheels, coupled with support from Healthy Futures, will help us reach even more deserving families in the future.”
In Philadelphia, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia will direct $232,000 in funding toward its Healthier Together Initiative, specifically its hunger focus area. Grant funding will support the hospital’s Food Pharmacy 2.0 program, which provides referred families up to three days of healthy food for their entire family and connects them with a resource navigator who offers a concierge-like approach to attaining other resources they may need. Funding also will go to CHOP’s Home Plate + Food Bucks Rx program, which offers food literacy and cooking skills programming and produce prescription vouchers to 200 families in West Philadelphia. Additionally, funding will support the CHOP Garden at the Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pediatric Care Center, which has already grown and distributed 9,000 pounds of food and provides educational workshops and activities for the West Philadelphia community.
Penn State Health Children’s Hospital will receive $500,000, the largest Connecting Communities grant, to support several initiatives around the Harrisburg region. In addition to helping pediatric patient families overcome food insecurity, the hospital will establish community gardens, increase year-round access to fresh produce and expand health education in local schools to teach students how to grow healthy foods. The grant also will support the distribution of emergency food boxes to those in need as well as a Veggie Rx program that helps physicians connect patients with chronic and diet-related illness to healthy food.
All grants are funded through Rite Aid’s KidCents fundraising program. Generous Rite Aid customers can round up their purchases online or in-store to support children’s health and wellness. Healthy Futures reinvests the funds into Rite Aid communities through programs like Connecting Communities.
The Connecting Communities grant marks the second major funding announcement from Rite Aid Healthy Futures this year. In February, the charity committed $10 million over two years to support food programs in six cities through its Strengthening Cities signature initiative.