Meeting in PCAM
Helping to pull together the program from CHEA’s leadership team were (from left) Nida Al-Rhmahi, Rosemary Thomas, Jaya Aysola, and Heather Klusaritz.

Thanks to the efforts — and innovative thinking — of Rosemary Thomas, MPH, director of Operations in the Penn Medicine Center for Health Equity Advancement (CHEA) and her team, the Share Food Program was able to deliver food to vulnerable populations who couldn’t leave their homes during the pandemic while helping to keep people employed.

The idea initially evolved from an article Thomas read earlier this year about a catering company that was laying off staff. “We wanted to support these small businesses, but weren’t sure how.” But then, the other pieces of the puzzle started coming together. The team was already familiar with the work of the Share Food Program, a nonprofit which typically feeds about 700,000 people in a year. During the pandemic, the need for their services had risen sharply.

Why not pay catering staff to deliver boxes? Volunteers at Share who deliver food to homes could only fit about 10 boxes in their cars, but catering vans could fit 30 boxes! This partnership would allow Share to reach out to more people — more quickly — and catering staff could avoid the layoffs that might have resulted from the loss of normal business.

Initially, funding came from CHEA’s budget for an event typically held during Health Equity Week. When it had to be cancelled due to the pandemic, Thomas was allowed to use a portion to fund the idea. Thomas also applied for and received a Penn Medicine CAREs grant.

Thanks to their combined efforts, Share made around 720 home deliveries, adding up to more than 2,700 boxes of food throughout the spring and summer! Although the program

had to end in August when the initial funding sources were depleted, the Center received a generous contribution from the TD Bank Charitable Foundation and are in the “planning stages” to bring it back.  “It’s been a great partnership,” she said.

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