UMMS announces $1.2 million commitment to address food insecurity

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The University of Maryland Medical System has announced a $1.2 million commitment to address food insecurity issues statewide. Here are the details provided by the system: 

University of Maryland Medical System Announces $1.2 Million Commitment To Address Food Insecurity 

UM Upper Chesapeake Health Working To Address Food Insecurity Issues In Harford County

BEL AIR, Md.(August 2, 2021) – The University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) today announced a $1.2 million commitment to address food insecurity issues in the communities across the state which are served by the organization’s 13 hospitals. 

UMMS is working with the Maryland Food Bank, the Capital Area Food Bank, Moveable Feast and Meals on Wheels to provide directed grants and other resources to the most vulnerable individuals in targeted areas and help those who are hungry in our communities by supplying food and prepared meals. In most cases, the grants will be an extension of work that is already occurring in local communities. 

This initiative falls under the System’s Corporate Social & Economic Justice workstream, which operates within the growing Diversion, Equity and Inclusion effort, and is one of several that the System will be focusing on to address social determinants of health. In addition to the financial commitment, members of the System’s workforce of more than 29,000 individuals will also have opportunities to volunteer, such as helping pack and/or distribute food in local communities.

“As anchor institutions in the communities we serve, we have a moral obligation to help people not only directly with their physical health needs, but helping them put food in their pantries and on their tables,” said Mohan Suntha, MD, MBA, President and CEO of UMMS.  “Being secure with food is at the heart of, and one of the driving forces behind, an individual’s overall health.”

Prior to COVID-19, nearly 11 percent of Marylanders were food insecure, according to the organization Feed America, impacting approximately 380,000 individuals across the UMMS footprint, and the issue was exacerbated as a result of the pandemic. 

“We are working with these organizations because they are focused on feeding the hungry now and also on developing broader long-term solutions to food insecurity challenges,” Dr. Suntha said. “Partnering with them will help ensure that our resources are used for the most measurable and innovative solutions possible.”

UMMS member organizations, including University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health (UM UCH) in Harford County, have been working to address food insecurity issues in local communities and this aligns with those efforts on a systemwide scale. 

UM UCH has a long history of working alongside community organizations to address food insecurity issues. Prior to COVID-19, more than 23,000 Harford Countians – nearly one in 10 residents, were food insecure, and more than 8,500 residents, which at 4 percent is higher than the state average, had limited access to healthy food. In addition, Harford County is stressed with areas of food swamps, defined as having limited access to healthy foods, where only fast food, convenience stores or corner shops with limited healthy food options are available.

During COVID-19, food insecurity issues increased by 40 percent across Harford County. As part of its response to the pandemic, UM UCH, alongside Healthy Harford, convened a Harford County Food Access Workgroup with more than 25 community organizations. Among other actions, UM UCH provided gloves to the Harford Community Action Agency so their staff could continue distributing groceries to the public, donated $15,000 to organizations such as the Harford Community Action Agency and Mason Dixon Community Services, and worked with the HCFAW to educate community members about benefits available to help maintain family stability.

“As a community partner for health and wellness, we continue to strive towards being a catalyst for positive change, and this new grant initiative is one way in which those efforts are supported,” said Lyle Sheldon, President and Chief Executive Officer of University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health.

Carmen Del Guercio, President and CEO of the Maryland Food Bank: “As a hunger-relief organization that serves a majority of Maryland, we see great value in working with a similar statewide entity to broaden our reach and provide access to nutritious foods in areas of high need served by UMMS facilities. We look forward to working with UMMS to improve health outcomes among vulnerable populations, and hope this will be the start of a long-term partnership that leads to more opportunities to help Marylanders improve their lives through better nutrition.”