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Maryland Food Bank launches first food pantry in a healthcare center

at Harriet Lane Clinic
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Posted at 4:25 AM, May 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-28 08:20:18-04

BALTIMORE — Inside the Harriet Lane Clinic at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, there is a closet near the exams rooms that has been converted into a mini food pantry.

Dozens of brown paper bags line the shelves, filled with non-perishable food items to make a couple meals for a family of four, plus snacks for kids.

It’s the first of its kind for both the clinic and the Maryland Food Bank, who worked with a team at Johns Hopkins to get the food pantry up and running.

“What Hopkins was able to bring to this partnership is that they are addressing food insecurity but also looking at the root causes and the drivers of food insecurity in their patient population,” said Meg Kimmel, the Executive Vice President of Programs and External Affairs at the Maryland Food Bank. "And that’s very much lined up with the food bank is right now."

The Harriet Lane Clinic is a community-based, pediatric clinic that offers a variety of services to families in Baltimore, including social work, dental, and nutrition.

“We like to really look at it as a one-stop shop when our families come here. We can provide diapers and connect them to a number of other resources while they’re here for their medical care,” said Kristin Topel, the program manager of Hopkins Community Connection.

Over a year ago, Johns Hopkins and the Maryland Food Bank started a pilot program to introduce a food pantry into the clinic.

“We really brainstormed how does this make sense to bring a pantry into medical care like this,” Topel said. “It just was a beautiful partnership from the beginning and it turned out we were ready to open in mid-March, right when things really started changing for our families.”

And things changed for the clinic’s mini food pantry. Topel thought they would serve maybe 20 families a month at best. Since the COVID-19 pandemic started in mid-March, they've distributed food to about 200 families.

“I will say in the beginning, we could not keep it stocked fast enough. They would come in and it would be gone immediately,” she said. “We know how important this is to the overall health of our children and their families and it’s not the time to tell families that our pantry is out of food.”

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Kimmel said the food bank is working with the clinic to ensure every family that needs a bag of food receives it, as well as showing the staff how to properly store the food and distribute it. She said this is the first time the food bank has set up a pantry in a healthcare setting.

“We are absolutely looking at this as something that we will take it, write it up and turn into a series of best practices that we can use with other healthcare systems across the state,” Kimmel said.

Both Kimmel and Topel said this partnership has been a great learning experience for their respective institutions and an opportunity to grow their reach to families who need it most.

“We were really new to this, and what a time to open up a pantry, so without their guidance I don’t know where we would be. They really set us up for success,” said Topel.

“They are placing the food resources inside a larger assistance program for their patients so they’ve been thoughtful and methodical about that,” said Kimmel. “I think the way the pantry has evolved, it shows you that there are lot of people who are one paycheck away from really needing help.”