Penn State Health partners with food banks to feed patients in need

April 29, 2020

Self-isolation to stop the spread of COVID-19 can be stressful enough without adding the worry of having adequate food.

Penn State Health, the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and the Caring Cupboard food pantry of Palmyra are teaming up to provide relief in the form of food boxes at Hershey Medical Center’s drive-through COVID-19 testing site, as well as to people at home in isolation.

“We’re really glad to be able to help people at a scary, chaotic time. It’s nice to be able to offer them some peace of mind,” said Ashley Visco, Penn State Health community health director.

Before people are swabbed at the testing site, they are asked if they are worried about running out of food during isolation. If yes, a box containing 25 meals provided by Central Pennsylvania Food Bank is placed in their vehicle as they exit.

“People have been really appreciative – even people not needing food have been thankful that we’re asking,” said Visco, who estimated 20% of people getting tested have needed food boxes.

Previous collaborations around healthy food assistance built community trust that’s aiding in the current effort, said Joe Arthur, executive director of the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank. “It’s a really great example of collaboration in a time of crisis," he said.

“This is an opportunity to do something that’s good and valuable within our community,” said Shilah Ulrich, executive director of the Caring Cupboard.

Penn State College of Medicine students are also screening individuals quarantined with COVID-19 to see if they have access to enough food while in isolation. If not, they are referred to the Caring Cupboard for home delivery of food boxes for three weeks.

“The effort is helping to fight virus spread and shaping future top-notch physicians,” said Dr. Susan Borys, a Penn State Health physician.

“The students have been advocating for so many patients and families, not only for their health needs but for their total well-being. They are tenacious and determined to find a way to help,” she said. “It’s an incredibly positive program to come out of this dire health crisis.”

Students and faculty have taken their concern one step farther by working with the Development Office to establish Families in Need COVID Relief, a community giving effort to cover the cost of food boxes for people affected by COVID-19.

The quick response was made possible by the longstanding history of working together, said Tammi Garner, development officer at Hershey Medical Center.

“It’s a wonderful example of a project that brings out the hero in all of us – our health system, our students, our community partners and anyone who donates to the cause,” she said.

'We Are' stories

The “We Are” spirit is perhaps more important than ever before, and Penn Staters everywhere are coming together in new and amazing ways. During these challenging times, our community is continuing to realize Penn State’s commitment to excellence through acts of collaboration, thoughtfulness and kindness. As President Eric Barron has written on Digging Deeper, this truly is a “We Are” moment — and we want to hear your “We Are” stories. 

Visit news.psu.edu/WeAre to share how you or other Penn Staters are supporting each other to overcome the collective challenges presented by the novel coronavirus. We are! 

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 29, 2020