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Helping patients heal by sending them home with food

When families are just making it by, a hospital visit can mean lost income, added bills, and reduced access to groceries – Staff at SSM St. Mary’s Hospital had a great idea to counter this cycle of need.

Catholic Charities Food Programs Coordinator, Lori Stoll, Warehouse Manager, Mark Smith-Vandergriff, and Executive Director, Litz Main, load the van up with two dozen Hope and Healing Food Bags. The bags contain two days’s worth of food and are given to patients at SSM St. Mary’s Hospital who are identified as food-insecure at discharge.

For families living paycheck to paycheck, an emergency of size can derail their finely-tuned ability to pay the bills. A wrecked car or a frozen pipe can put the rent, utility bill, or even their grocery budget at risk. Thankfully in 2023, through a partnership with SSM St. Mary’s Hospital, Catholic Charities is able to provide short-term food support and long-term connections for patients recovering from hospital visits.

The 2022 Missouri Poverty Report showed the poverty rate in Missouri at around 13. The “poverty line” as we understand it is based on food needs and costs by family – but often under incorporates the additional strains on finances – necessities like childcare costs, healthcare fees, utilities and even rent. As recently as 2021, 40% of American families were reported to be one paycheck away from poverty.

From time to time the double-whammy hits even harder in the form of a hospital stay. With injury or illness comes lost working time (or unpaid leave), with the added burden of a hospital or procedural bill. If you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck, finding yourself in the Emergency Room rather than clocking in can mean the difference between paying the bills and facing eviction.

But this year, patients at SSM St. Mary’s hospital in Jefferson City are encountering something new: food support at discharge to help alleviate the burden of providing nutrition while they heal from their hospital stay.

Halfway into 2023, SSM St. Mary’s hospital staff approached the Health and Nutrition Services team at Catholic Charities to explore a collaboration that would put healthy food in the hands of patients who are identified as food-insecure.

The Hope and Healing food bag collaboration was designed, presented, launched, and implemented by the end of the calendar year.

The bar was high: provide two days of nutrient-rich food items that are shelf-stable, easy to prepare, and follow nutritional guidelines for patient’s care to help them best heal. Our staff rose to the occasion, researching, taste-testing, sourcing packaging, tracking inventory, and scheduling deliveries.

The end results hit all the marks: an insulated zip-up bag packed with two breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks and drinks to accompany. Each item is shelf-stable, nutrient-dense, and easy to prepare. They account for common food allergens and are low-sodium – designed not only to nourish but to help those leaving the hospital to truly heal.

Included in a side-pocket of the bags are referral resources for local help – connecting patients to the wrap-around care they need to find stability beyond those two days of nutrition.

“An even more important element of this is, after they receive the food bags – what?” SSM St. Mary’s Hospital president, K.C. DeBoer, told KRCG back in December of 2023.

“So, our partnership with Catholic Charities is aimed at connecting patients to the Catholic Charities Food Pantry, or with other agencies in our community or outlying communities who can help them with food security moving forward,” DeBoer continued, “Because no one can heal if they don’t have adequate nutrition.”

The Hope & Healing bags have been well received – with half of the initial bags delivered reaching patients and their families through the hands of hospital staff.

“Recently, we encountered a family in the Pediatrics wing who had no formula for their infant, and no food for their family during extremely cold temperatures,” shared the Manager of Mission Integration and Chaplain to SSM St. Mary’s Hospital, Bobby Reed.

“Our staff were able to supply them with food bags and formula to sustain them until the weather broke and they could get plugged into additional resources,” he continued, “Without this help, this family would have gone without for several days.”

This is the reality for many across communities in our thirty-eight-county coverage area. Each person our work impacts finds themselves experiencing need, but through key partnerships, creative thinking, and exceptional care – we can provide more than food provisions for two days; we can provide comfort, and we can revive hope.