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Published on March 18, 2021

Partnership with BackPack Beginnings allows Cone Health to provide nutritious meals to families in need

Employee filling backpacks

A prescription for nutrition

Even before the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic crisis, food insecurity was a significant problem in Guilford County, particularly for children. Research reveals that 20 percent of local kids live in homes with limited or inconsistent amounts of safe, nutritious foods.

But in the era of COVID-19, the need is even greater. That’s why Cone Health and BackPack Beginnings are working together to give patients of The Tim and Carolynn Rice Center for Child and Adolescent Health enough healthy food to feed a family of five for three to four days.

The program provides pregnant patients from economically disadvantaged households bags with 15 healthy food items — proteins, grains, vegetables, fruits, baby formula and snacks identified by a nutritionist as meeting the nutritional needs of adults and children.

“I hope this inspires our community to recognize that solutions exist and we are stronger together than we could ever be apart,” says Dr. Hilary McCormick, medical director for the Rice Center.

Nutrition is a major contributor to children’s health. According to McCormick, food insecurity can lead to poor growth and obesity, and is associated with higher rates of birth defects, anemia, cognitive problems and aggression. 

Unfortunately, many parents tell Cone Health employees like Dr. McCormick that they’re worried about affording food for their families.

The collaboration between Cone Health and BackPack Beginnings provides an ideal solution to that challenge, according to Dr. McCormick. Staff from the Center for Women’s Healthcare and the Rice Center will screen families for food insecurity, then write a “prescription” for the bag of food. Eligible patients will then pick up their bags, packed with food by volunteers from BackPack Beginnings, at one of two local “food pharmacies.”

Organizers plan to distribute more than 110,000 pounds of food to vulnerable families over the next three years.

Cone Health also will use its patient tracking system to monitor food insecurity over a long-range period, and provide patients with information on other sources of food, including food banks and assistance programs.

“I love the way we are a link in a chain of funders, volunteers, BackPack Beginnings and Cone Health Philanthropy making this happen,” Dr. McCormick says. “I am grateful to work at Cone where this need is recognized and support is offered.”

The partnership with BackPack Beginnings, which has spent more than a decade feeding the hungry, allows Cone Health to address the food needs of patients “while remaining focused on doing what we do best: providing exceptional care,” Schneider says.

It also prevents families from having to choose between paying for medical care and buying groceries for their children, says Parker White, founder and volunteer executive director of BackPack Beginnings.

“BackPack Beginnings has been fighting hunger in our schools for a decade and has seen how access to food can make a dramatic impact on the lives of children and families in our community,” she says. “We’re excited to partner with our community's largest health care provider to increase our community reach.”

The last 12 months have presented unexpected challenges to patients and families, says Amanda Jackson, practice administrator for the Rice Center. The food provided through BackPack Beginnings has helped lighten their burden.

“We get to see firsthand the joy and overwhelming appreciation the families express when we provide them with a bag of food,” she says.

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