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Robert Schmitz

Free summer lunch program for kids kicks off in SLCH café

SLCH | Summer is the hungriest time of year for many of the 13 million children who rely on school for food through the free or reduced-price meal program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“There is an unbreakable link between access to basic human needs and the health of an individual patient,” says Sarah Shelton, MD, a third-year pediatric resident at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “It is a socioeconomic issue, but I see a direct impact on the health of my patients and their families. If you’re hungry, it’s harder to be healthy.”

The hungry children she treats compelled her and Washington University School of Medicine to partner with Operation Food Search, a food bank serving metro St. Louis, to provide free, weekday lunches for children 18 and younger who visit the hospital during summer. Recipients include children with outpatient appointments or procedures, as well as siblings, relatives or friends of a patient in the hospital or who had a specialty doctor’s appointment, lab work or X-rays.

How many meals are served?

The program began in June 2018, serving 30-40 meals per day. A total of about 1,100 kids received free food last summer. This summer’s program began June 3, with meals served in the atrium café from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. daily.

A $2,000 grant through the pediatric residency program allowed Dr. Shelton to buy refrigerators for the meals. Staff nutritionists helped create well-balanced meals. Faculty, students and other pediatric resident physicians enthusiastically volunteered.

“We work well together because we agree on the importance of also addressing our patients’ fundamental health needs outside of the hospital,” Dr. Shelton says. “We hope to continue this program for summers to come.”

They said it

  • “It allows us as doctors to use best medical practices and share in a mission that impacts kids’ health and well-being on a deeper, broader and more meaningful level.”
    — Katie Plax, MD, the Ferring Family Chair of Pediatrics.
  • “To help these children have a meal they may not otherwise be able to have makes me feel great and reminds me of the reason I went into pediatrics.”
    — John Putman, MD, third-year resident
  • “It’s wonderful to be part of a program that helps patients, siblings and extended families who come here to seek medical attention. Spending a few hours to address that need is an afternoon well spent.”
    — Kit Schmitz, RN, Children’s Direct and Child Health Advocacy and Outreach
  • “Dr. Shelton’s project exemplifies our ongoing commitment to helping the children in the St. Louis area above and beyond the ear infections, pneumonias and broken bones. Food insecurity is an under-recognized and underappreciated contributor to child health. I’m pleased to see our young doctors working to combat this issue.”
    — Andrew White, MD, director, pediatric residency program

Note: Now that their residencies are nearly complete, both Drs. Shelton and Putman are transitioning to new roles as SLCH hospitalists.

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