Wellness pantry program feeds patients at doctor visits

Children’s clinic partners with food bank to help ease families’ food insecurity

Wellness pantry program feeds patients at doctor visits

Tucked away in a corner storage area at Sanford’s Southwest Children’s Clinic in Fargo is something you might not expect to see in a medical building: a smorgasbord of canned foods, dried goods, hygiene products and more for those in need.

“It was a collaboration with the Great Plains Food Bank here in the community,” said Alison Vogel, supervisor at Sanford Southwest Children’s Clinic. “Sanford has been donating to them over the past few years, and so it was just a great opportunity that we found here at the Southwest Children’s Clinic for it to be a great need for our families and children to be able to have this nutritional need in our community.”

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Screening for food insecurity

When patients come into the clinic they are asked three simple questions, all of which pertain to their ability to feed themselves and their children. If their answers suggest they need help, they are given 20 to 30 pounds of food to take home.

“That should be enough for about three to five meals to get them through the next 24 to 48 hours,” said Dr. Melissa Horner, a pediatrician at Sanford Southwest Children’s Clinic. “At the same time, we give them brochures that talk about more long-term solutions to their food insecurity. What’s available in the community for food pantries, some of the places that do make fresh warm meals every day, and what they can do to get established a little bit better long-term.”

Helping those in need

The wellness pantry at Sanford Southwest Children’s Clinic started in early February as a pilot program. Within the first three weeks, more than 100 families were served, and the staff at the clinic says they often see up to a dozen families in need each day.

“You know, it’s been wildly successful, which is very bittersweet overall,” said Dr. Horner. “It’s really great to be able to help these families if they’re struggling, but it’s really sad to see that there’s such a great need in our community. It hasn’t taken much as far as appointment time away from the providers. I think the nurses are really quick in the transition with the questionnaires. So it’s been really nice and really easy, and it’s been very rewarding to be able to help families and see how appreciative they really are.”

Ways to donate

While most of the food, diaper and hygiene products come from the Great Plains Food Bank, the pantry also takes donations from individuals in the community right at the clinic, as well as through the Sanford Health Foundation.

“In the Sanford Foundation, the wellness pantry at the Southwest Children’s Clinic has their own fund set up, so that money can be directly donated to that fund,” Vogel said. “And then we can utilize that money to support this pantry with food, (and) with other supplies that are needed to maintain this pantry.”

For those interested in donating directly to the clinic, the staff asks that donors contact the clinic to schedule a drop-off time. Food needs to have nutrition labels listed on the packaging.

If the pilot program continues to succeed in helping food insecure patients through their difficult times, the plan is to create pantry spaces in all of Sanford’s pediatric clinics throughout the Fargo-Moorhead area.

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Posted In Children's, Community, Fargo, Foundation