Mighty Blog

Virtual panel discusses the impact of COVID-19 on hunger and health in our communities

On Tuesday, August 4, 2020, Children’s Minnesota President and CEO, Dr. Marc Gorelick, joined a virtual panel with Second Harvest Heartland and United States of Care to discuss how hunger and health are more connected than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The panelists focused on the irrefutable link between hunger and health. Diet-related chronic disease among food shelf visitors is six times higher than that of the general population. These same chronic health conditions – among many other factors – also put those continually accessing the hunger relief network at a greater risk of serious illness should they contract COVID-19.

Dr. Gorelick noted efforts by Children’s Minnesota to address hunger, including through Community Connect, an innovative initiative that goes beyond basic medical care to support the social determinants of health impacting kids by connecting families to existing community resources, including food. The program has seen an increased need for food support among enrolled families since the pandemic began, as well as generally higher enrollment rates.

“Among those enrolled in Community Connect, food is consistently the top need identified by families, especially during the pandemic. It is essential to address these gaps early as infancy and childhood are periods of incredible growth in all areas of development,” said Dr. Gorelick. “Hunger impedes the ability of children to reach their full potential and is a risk factor for downstream effects.”

According to Second Harvest Heartland, consistent access to a nutritious diet also differs across racial lines, with Black, Latinx, and Indigenous families in our community at least twice as likely to experience hunger than white families. This reinforces other disparities in health outcomes for these populations, including the fact that Minnesotans of color are dying from COVID-19 at twice the rate of white Minnesotans.

“The economic hardships of COVID-19 have left many more people hungry, creating another health crisis nested within this pandemic,” said Allison O’Toole, CEO of Second Harvest Heartland. “The good news is hunger is a hardship and a COVID-19 risk factor that we can control, in a time when so much is out of our control.”

How to support

Community Connect, partially funded by a generous grant from Kohl’s Cares, is transforming Children’s Minnesota’s approach to health care by connecting families to existing community resources, including housing, food and other needs.

Clinicians at Children’s Minnesota begin by having families take a screening about the proactive social determinants of health. They then make real-time referrals to resource navigators, who then design a responsive plan of action to help that family on an on-going basis.

Available resources include food access, transportation services, legal assistance, housing support, early childhood education programs, employment search assistance and more.

To support Community Connect and other urgent needs at Children’s Minnesota during this critical time, make a donation today.

Free meal resources in our communities

The Twin Cities metro area has many resources to help kids and their families find meals when they need them.