For many, this year's holiday season did not bring much to celebrate. This was especially true for those without enough to eat. But, thanks to the HUP Pantry, many employees were able to welcome the holidays with all the trimmings.
The HUP Pantry opened in May 2020 to help supplement the diets of HUP employees facing food insecurity as a result of economic hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic that may affect their families. Each of the bags they hand out bag contains enough nonperishable items to feed a family of four for one day. "It's such an important program," said Sofia Carreno, MSN, Nursing Professional Development specialist — Community Engagement. "People have lost income, neighborhood grocery stores have closed...the need hasn't slowed down." Indeed, since its inception, the pantry has giving out nearly 3,300 bags of food. Donations have also included pet food, baby food, and personal hygiene products.
But the Pantry team wanted to make both Thanksgiving and the holiday season especially joyous, and thanks to many donations, they succeeded.
Debbie Driscoll, MD, SVP for CPUP, and John Sestito, executive director of CPUP, spearheaded a collection with CPUP employees that resulted in enough money to purchase 300 turkey vouchers! And social worker Patti Meehan's daughter, Lauren, held a bake-along fundraiser in her business — Binxy Bakes — which resulted in a $1,000 donation.
The Board of Women Visitors made another generous donation, as did the Abrahamsohn Christmas and Easter Committee, which is under the umbrella of the BWV. With COVID preventing several of the annual hospital activities this group usually funds (such as bringing musicians and Santas to spread holiday cheer and deliver small gifts to patients in the hospital), members of the Abrahamsohn Committee decided to instead donate $2,000 to the HUP Pantry.
For the holiday meals, Carreno asked for seasonal items, like cans of soups, gravy, cranberry sauce, and yams, plus stuffing and desserts. And their requests were more than answered! Carreno and over 40 volunteers packed and distributed almost 550 bags for Thanksgiving and holiday distributions.
Most of the donations to the pantry must be nonperishable, but starting in October, employees coming to the pantry could also expect some fresh veggies with their non-perishables, thanks to the Penn Food Farm and Stacy Pundock, a MPH student at the Perelman School of Medicine. The Penn Food Farm, which is part of the Penn Food and Wellness Collaborative, is an expansion of the Penn Park Orchard, located by the Penn tennis courts on the other side of the train tracks from HUP. As a part of her capstone project, Pundock's goal is to address the nutritional component of food insecurity by providing fresh produce from the farm in addition to the bags distributed at the pantry.
Every Wednesday around 6 a.m., Pundock and Carreno drive to the urban farm to pick up boxes of produce, including kale, arugula, spring mix, scallions, carrots turnips and beets, and drop them off at the hospital's main entrance. So far, the pantry has given out almost 330 bundles of produce. "People need fresh food and veggies to boost the immune system during the pandemic," Pundock said.
"Many recipients of the food pantry have commented that the produce is the best part about using the pantry," Carreno said.
While the holidays have passed, the need for the pantry has not. Carreno said she's hoping to be able to keep the pantry up and running and would like to expand program to patients who screen high for food insecurity. "This can be so powerful when people get together," she said "We'll do as much as we can."