While they can’t hold large-group events like they have in the past, the hospital’s Community Outreach team is meeting the needs of the community in new and creative ways this pandemic summer.
One new program involves getting fresh fruits and vegetables in the hands – and bellies – of low-income families. Another distributes activity kits to families to encourage keeping children active and creative while they’re at home.
“At-risk families are at an even greater risk now,” said Heather Wuensch, director of Community Benefit, Advocacy & Outreach, External Affairs, Akron Children’s Hospital.
Her department’s efforts have shifted to providing greater access to resources and education about keeping children healthy and safe in the midst of a pandemic.
“Many families simply don’t have the basics of what they need to protect themselves,” she said. “Low-income and Black neighborhoods specifically experience disparities that put kids at greater risk for certain health conditions. We look for ways to break down barriers and bring education and awareness to the community.”
Keeping children active and parents engaged
Outreach kits are among the new initiatives Akron Children’s has introduced specifically in response to the pandemic.
Included for parents and caregivers is information on protecting their families. Also included is hand sanitizer, face coverings, hot/cold pack, growth chart, bandages and a thermometer. Kids receive pencils, crayons, sidewalk chalk, bubbles, water bottle, jump rope and a frisbee.
“We want to encourage kids to stay active and healthy throughout the summer,” Wuensch said. “We also want to continue to engage parents and families and educate them about staying safe and feeling comfortable about coming back to the hospital.”
External Affairs plans to distribute 5,000 of these kits throughout Summit, Portage, Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.
Improving access to fresh produce
This new initiative is funded by Produce Perks Midwest, an Ohio non-profit organization. Its mission is to improve the health of underserved communities by increasing affordable access to healthy foods.
“Our role is to help implement the program for families we connect with in the community or throughout the hospital,” Wuensch said. “Ultimately the impact we hope to achieve is to help reduce food insecurity and increase the consumption of healthy fruits and vegetables.”
Akron Children’s Hospital will distribute approximately 350 $40 coupon books throughout the Mahoning Valley. They are redeemable for fresh fruits and vegetables at participating grocery stores in Warren, Youngstown and Struthers. Another 150 coupon books are earmarked for families in Summit and Portage counties.
“We plan to meet them where they live, work and play,” Wuensch said about the all-out effort to ensure the coupons get in the right hands. “The team is following all COVID safety measures.”
Wuensch’s team has identified several distribution points, including community events and various hospital departments.
To be eligible, families must meet requirements for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, including:
- Have an annual income at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level
- Have a minor child in the household
- Be a U.S. citizen or meet a citizenship exception
One of the first distributions was in collaboration with MV Community Outreach Injury Prevention and Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Program community health workers. Others included a car seat safety event at Beeghly campus and at a collaboration with House of the Lord in Akron. Families register in advance and receive the coupons at the events.
For more information about outreach kits or the Produce Perks program, contact Courtney Hudson, manager Community Outreach & Education, External Affairs, at email@example.com.