Creating a Food Pantry from the ED During COVID-19

How we developed a COVID-10 Food Pantry Collaboration from the Emergency Medicine department of Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan

Diana Fleisher
Jul 9, 2020 · 3 min read

Emergency departments (EDs) are the eyes and ears to unmet health and social needs. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York, EDs maintained their core mission of serving everyone who walked through their doors, even when other health care and social service organizations were closed to in-person visits. In the EDs we saw firsthand the horrors of the COVID-19 pandemic: clinically baffling critical patients as well as job loss, family separation and food insecurity. As a small step to assist patients with their immediate food needs during quarantine, we created a program to distribute bags of shelf-stable food to patients being discharged from the ED. The program, which started initially at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan (New York City) in partnership with The Westside Campaign Against Hunger, is described in the Annals of Family Medicine COVID-19 collection.

The Bellevue Hospital program inspired a collaboration between the NYU Langone Brooklyn ED and The Family Health Center at NYU Langone (FHC), a 53-year-old Federally Qualified Health Center providing medical, dental, behavioral health and community support services. The ED is located in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood, home to over 130,000 residents in one of New York City’s most diverse communities. A 2017 profile from Hunter College and The United Hospital Fund revealed that almost one-half of Sunset Park residents do not have a high school diploma[1] and the neighborhood struggles with poverty rates higher than the New York City average. Eighty percent of Sunset Park FHC patients live below the federal poverty level. The Table Food Pantry of the FHC was inaugurated in April 2019 to meet this need, not knowing that within a year, they would become the ideal partner to respond to the novel challenge of providing nutrition for ED patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. To responds to a recent 700% increase in resident seeking food outside the ED and fund this new ED nutrition initiative, The Table Food Pantry has launched a fundraising campaign.

For ED staff, the ability to have an immediate impact providing nutrition to discharged patients was a source of encouragement while facing demoralizing personal protective equipment shortages and dramatic changes in workflow during the pandemic. At all New York hospitals, the need for nutrition assistance has persisted even as cases of COVID-19 have declined. Currently, 30 bags per week are distributed at NYU Langone Brooklyn and ED social workers experiment with strategies to distribute the food with the least stigma possible. The unique partnership of ED staff, social work, and community health centers has established a comprehensive model where ED patients are not only given food, but also resources to obtain more help through a longer term relationship with the FHC. We hope that this model will tighten the support that the ED can provide as a “safety net” and help guide patients to the myriad of health and social services, including The Table Food Pantry, available through the FHC medical home.

Authors: Diana Fleisher, Kathleen Hopkins, Katherine Jahnes, Emily Foote, Kelly Doran.

[1] Foodscape, 2017. New York City Food Policy Center at Hunter College. https://www.nycfoodpolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/FS205_2017.pdf

Family Medicine Case Notes from the COVID-19 Frontlines

U.S. primary care physicians share their experiences at the front lines of Covid-19 care.

Family Medicine Case Notes from the COVID-19 Frontlines

Case Notes from the COVID-19 Front Lines compiles stories and resources from doctors on the front lines of Covid-19 care. The stories are vetted by a team of physicians and editors at the Annals of Family Medicine and the Association of Departments of Family Medicine.

Diana Fleisher

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Family Medicine Case Notes from the COVID-19 Frontlines

Case Notes from the COVID-19 Front Lines compiles stories and resources from doctors on the front lines of Covid-19 care. The stories are vetted by a team of physicians and editors at the Annals of Family Medicine and the Association of Departments of Family Medicine.