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Food insecurity is a year-round problem that peaks during the summer months. UW Health is finding ways to fight hunger with two new initiatives this summer.

Diorra Byrd and her 5-year old cousin, Isaiah, depend on food assistance every month from food pantries like St. Vincent De Paul, without which she says she would go without food.

“We wouldn’t be able to get through the month. Fruits are expensive in the grocery store, really expensive. So, trying to shop on a budget healthy, it’s just really hard,” Byrd said.

UW Health is helping to ease the burden. Every patient of any age who comes to the emergency room at the hospital, UW Health at the American Center and American Family Children’s Hospital will be screened for food insecurity. Everyone will be asked the same two questions, and if the answer is yes, they will be directed to a social worker and given a list of local food resources to find a nearby food pantry.

“Hunger affects people at all ages. It can happen whether they are kids or whether they are older adults and for some people they struggle with food insecurity for only a short amount of time, so for anyone who needs those resources, we want to help connect them, said Robin Lankton, program director for community health at UW Health.

The new effort stems from the HungerCare Coalition initiative started by Second Harvest food bank of Southern Wisconsin. Second Harvest is providing the resources to screen patients. They have already seen success using the questionnaire in clinics in other communities.

“The more we ask these questions, the more venues that we do that, the more it becomes comfortable and patients feel like they can share their concerns and know that they are going to get help,” said Anne Gargano Ahmed, Second Harvest Hunger Care Coalition Coordinator.

One in nine adults and one in six children in Dane County struggle with food insecurity, according to Feeding America. In a separate effort UW Health hopes providing free meals for children this summer will help ease the burden.

“The can come whether they are there for an appointment or if they are visiting someone or even if they are there in the area, they can come to American Family Children’s Hospital or University Hospital for summer food,” Lankton said.

There is no income requirement or registration for summer meals provided by the health care system. The summer meals will be provided from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday at American Family Children’s Hospital. At UW Hospital, the service will be provided from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week.

Written by Velena Jones

Velena Jones

Velena Jones is a news reporter at WISC-TV in Madison.

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