How can we afford this?
It all started with these five words.
It was 2017 and Ann Jackson was in Chicago’s Cancer Center receiving chemotherapy when she overheard the patient next to her ask her husband how they were going to navigate the cost of care. It wasn’t until after her appointment that Ann realized they were talking about lunch — the patient and her husband were at the hospital for a daylong infusion and weren’t sure they could afford to feed themselves during the appointment.
Ann quickly realized this story was a common one for the folks receiving treatment. It became clear that hunger throughout cancer treatment could be attributed to a multitude of reasons: the lack of snack options given by the hospital, the cost of the cafeteria food and the logistical burden of having to prep for a full day at the hospital. Recognizing the very real gap in care, Ann started to bring healthy food and snack options with her to appointments, distributing them to her fellow patients as they were receiving treatment.
A few months later, she attended a lecture on hospital-based food insecurity given by University of Chicago faculty member, Dr. Stacy Lindau. Realizing that food insecurity was an issue for folks who were undergoing medical care, Dr. Lindau, along with a group of medical students, staff and faculty, founded a program called Feed1st. Feed1st pantries were stocked with shelf-stable food throughout the children’s hospital and families could take as much food as they needed, no questions asked. Ann could finally put a name to the condition facing her fellow patients in the cancer center: Hospital-based food insecurity.
Equipped with this new knowledge, Ann joined the patient advisory board where she was instrumental in making several changes: the food on the snack cart was changed to include healthy options and patients whose treatment sessions were longer than 4 hours could receive meal vouchers. She also partnered with Dr. Lindau to open a Feed1st pantry in the Comprehensive Cancer Center just a short four months later.
The pantry quickly became a staple in the Cancer Center — and while this was a significant change for the patients receiving care at UChicago, Ann felt compelled to do more.
In 2019, Ann and a group of committed volunteers and givers created Holiday Magic. Seven families who were experiencing food insecurity and financial hardship due to a member of their household undergoing medical treatment received groceries and gifts for each member of the family.
In 2020, these 7 families experienced additional stress with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need grew. Ann and her team of volunteers were able to solicit donations and receive grant funding to serve 20 families.
Ann continued to forge close partnerships with local nonprofits and social impact agencies. Her reach went beyond folks who had received a cancer diagnosis to those with other chronic health conditions. It became clear that Ann and her determined team were meeting a need. Committed to filling this gap, the Center for Food Equity in Medicine was officially formed in June 2020.
The Center for Food Equity in Medicine is committed to raising awareness and meeting the nutritional needs for people living with chronic health conditions. Interested in learning more? Join us.
Millions of adults and children are unable to obtain the nutrition they need to thrive. These individuals and families are often our neighbors and friends. The impact of COVID-19 and subsequent financial distress that many people are experiencing has caused an estimated 54 million Americans to now be considered without adequate financial resources to meet their basic nutritional needs.
Families with a life-altering diagnosis are even more at risk for food insecurity. The strain of lost wages, rise of medical expenses, frequent copayments and the demands to meet existing financial obligations can force these families to make difficult decisions. They may have to choose between buying food or paying for medications; paying a visit co-pay or paying the full amount of their electric bill. We are here to make sure these folks — our friends and neighbors — don’t have to experience the food insecurity that comes with a change in health status.