Introducing CARES, a group of Mott social workers who are addressing food insecurity

About a 3-minute read

Key Takeaways:

  • A group of pediatric social workers at Mott Children’s Hospital are leading a grassroots project to address food insecurity
  • The committee, called CARES, secured a $25,000 grant from Kroger’s Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation, and has done two food pickups in the last three months
  • Two of the social workers were honored at a national conference as part of this project

A group of pediatric social workers have been instrumental in easing hunger insecurity at Michigan Medicine. Now through a partnership with Kroger’s Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation, this committee has launched two food pickups in the recent months on U-M medical campus.

Formed in 2019 to better address the needs of the specialty pediatric and obstetric populations at Michigan Medicine, these social workers developed the Coalition on Advocacy, Resources, Empowerment, and Supports (CARES).

The group has long-standing goals of collaborating with community partners and advocating for policy change to better support patients and families. Along with food insecurity, the committee has also worked on expanding interpreter services and systemic barriers related to child protective services.

Addressing a pervasive, silent need

The CARES committee, co-chaired by Haley Andrews, L.M.S.W., and Nicole Salvia, L.M.S.W., identified food insecurity as a pervasive need to address. From there, the committee brainstormed what could be done, and a food pantry was organized at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

“We noticed that an increasing number of patients, families and some staff, were facing hunger insecurity,” said Salvia, a social worker in the pediatric home ventilator program. “This was particularly prevalent during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic when it was more difficult to refer and utilize community food pantries.”

The CARES committee, with assistance from the Office of Development, secured a $25,000 pilot grant from the Kroger Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation to aid families facing food insecurity.

Specifically, the pilot program is working with Mott families in four clinics: pediatric pulmonology, pediatric nephrology, pediatric orthopedics, and Von Voigtlander obstetrics. The first week of the pilot program went live on Nov. 29, 2022, shortly after Thanksgiving.

“We were able to provide 12 food outreach bags on the first week of screening,” said Andrews, a social worker with OB/GYN. “This idea has been embraced by the physicians and nurses because we are engaging with patients in a special and comforting way to bring real change to their lives.”

A joint community effort

The eagerness of medical staff to learn more about what CARES is doing has indicated it’s time to expand the pilot program. Earlier this month, another food drop took place at Mott on Feb. 6.

“The need is clearly present,” said Nicole Hall, L.M.S.W., pediatric social worker for the inflammatory bowel disease program. “The dietitians and nurses I have been working with in clinic have asked to refer patients and families from clinics not currently participating in the pilot program.”

Food security is an important determinant to health. For the CARES committee, this project allows a sense of belonging, which falls in line with U-M Health’s Building our BASE initiatives.

“Research shows that food insecurity can lead to chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes,” Andrews added. “By addressing concerns in addition to health impairments, we create a space of belonging for individuals to share other concerns.”

Recently, Andrews and Kirstin Santa, L.M.S.W., pediatric clinical social worker in orthopedics, presented a poster at the Society for Social Work Leadership Conference (SSWLHC) in Nashville, Tennessee. Their poster, “Addressing Food Insecurity in Healthcare Through Advocacy and Intervention,” was voted as the top poster “that demonstrates social work excellence in leadership.”

Looking forward, the group wants to continue the food pantries beyond the pilot program. The goal is to continue to gather funds, grants and partnerships to create permanence.

“Our long-term goal is to establish an on-site, choice food pantry for the entire Michigan Medicine community,” said Matthew Butler, L.M.S.W, pediatric clinical social worker for nephrology. “The CARES committee is committed to identifying a permanent, on-site space soon.”