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Backus Hospital Launches Food Pantry

December 11, 2023

Backus Hospital has opened a food pantry for patients about to be discharged as another means of providing healthy benefits to the community.

The need for food assistance for patients leaving inpatient care is there. According to the hospital’s 2023 Community Health Improvement Plan, New London County experienced the largest increase in child food insecurity – from 11.7% in 2019 to 14.8% in 2021. From 2015 – 2021, 20% of adults in Norwich reported food insecurity as compared to 14% for the State of Connecticut.

The Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center has accepted the hospital as a member agency, meaning hospital staff can “shop” at the food center in order to stock its own food pantry. In addition to accessing free items, such as pastas and cereals, the hospital can buy other items.

The Backus Office of Philanthropy and Development is providing funding for Community Health to be able to make those purchases.

“The Backus food pantry is another project funded by the Healthy Community Annual Appeal in an effort to support our mission to improve the health of our community,” says Genevieve Schies, Backus development director. “We are grateful to the many donors who support the Backus Annual Fund, allowing us to develop and deliver innovative, targeted and impactful projects like the pantry.”

Shannon Haynes is the registered dietician overseeing the pantry project. It had a “soft launch” in October, providing pre-made food bags to patients being discharged from the hospital as well as the emergency department.

“The goal is to provide food to patients upon discharge that do not have reliable access to a sufficient quality of nutritious food,” Haynes says. “Sometimes when you are just getting home from the hospital, it can be challenging. In the past, when a patient was identified as food insecure before discharge, we could only tell them about resources available to them in the community. Now, these patients can be given food.”

Each bag includes non-perishable items, including cereal, pasta, shelf-stable milk, canned fruits and vegetables, tuna, peanut butter and some snacks. On weekdays, the bags are distributed to patients being discharged by volunteers and on nights and weekends they are distributed by public safety personnel. Everything is stored in a secure area at the hospital and the bags are put together by volunteers under Haynes’ guidance.

The project started last April when the United Way reached out, noting it was “looking for partners who have the capacity to either start a feeding program in New London County or expand a current program. We are looking to fill gaps in the county where there is a need for increased access or where there is a population that is currently underrepresented within our current membership.”

Joseph Zuzel, director of Community Health for Hartford HealthCare in eastern Connecticut, was immediately interested.

“Our relationship with United Way of Southeastern Connecticut has always been strong,” Zuzel says, “but in recent years we have grown together to be able to deliver amazing care and resources to our underserved populations in the region. We have been involved as a supportive partner from the start for the work they do at Gemma Moran. This was a chance for us to roll up our sleeves and be an active participant in their mission of eliminating food insecurity. Food insecurity is on the rise in our hospital service areas and it is our responsibility to try to address this issue for our patients and our communities.”