Nurses Reach Out to Help Those Who Are Hungry

As the economic downturn made hunger and food insecurity more common last year, nurses stepped up to help meet the need.

    • January 29, 2012

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that more than 46 million people—one in seven Americans—received help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) last October, the most recent month for which data is available. As the recession has taken a toll on families, nurses have stepped in to help alleviate hunger through their institutions and on their personal time.

Eric A. Hodges, PhD, FNP-BC, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholar (2009 – 2012) and assistant professor at the University of North Carolina (UNC)-Chapel Hill School of Nursing, reports that his nursing school has launched a program to combat hunger in its community—and the program is growing every year.

In 2009 and 2010, faculty, staff and students at the UNC School of Nursing donated food and money that provided more than 12,000 meals. In 2011 alone, their contributions covered some 8,800 meals. That made for a happy New Year for the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina and the communities it serves. The Food Bank now sends a truck to collect donations from the school, because it is too much for staff members to deliver by car.

Sarah Szanton, PhD, CRNP, an RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholar (2011 – 2013) who is an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, works with low-income, disabled seniors for her Nurse Faculty Scholar project. While much of the public conversation around hunger is focused on providing for children, Szanton notes that many older adults are hungry as well and she says hunger among that population should not be overlooked.

The reasons for hunger among seniors vary. “Some can’t stand long enough to prepare the foods they know how to cook,” Szanton says. “Others can’t get food in their houses without a ride or without someone to help them unload a car. Still others have to choose between paying for medicines and paying for food.”

“We have found that careful attention to alleviating the barriers they face to obtaining and preparing food can have a powerful effect on hunger,” she added. “This may include helping them build strength to stand and providing railings for their steps, arthritis-friendly kitchen tools and a microwave for those with few teeth.”

New Jersey Nursing Scholar Catherine Carlton, BSN, RN, began donating her personal time to help feed those in need after Hurricane Irene struck her community last year. A scholar with the RWJF New Jersey Nursing Initiative who is in the MSN in Nursing Program at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Henry P. Becton School of Nursing and Allied Health, Carlton is helping collect donations each month from her family members and their friends at a local condominium community. Her work supports the Center of United Methodist Aid to the Community/Ecumenically Concerned Helping Others, which is supporting several dozen families with its Drive by Food Drive collection. The collection was started by one of Carlton’s neighbors.

“Nursing is 24/7. It is providing aid and comfort to those in need and we do that in different ways when the opportunity presents itself,” Carlton says. “It is extremely rewarding to be able to coordinate food donations that will be put to good use.” In addition to the donations she collects, she goes to major food chains and buys bulk sale items to donate, favoring items that are high in protein. “I try to watch salt content. Healthy cereals are good. It is very important to me to know that the donations have good nutritional value,” Carlton added.

Terrah L. Foster, PhD, RN, CPNP, also an RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholar (2010 – 2012) and an assistant professor of nursing at the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, works to help end hunger in her community as well. She spent Thanksgiving Day last year running in the Boulevard Bolt. Since 1994, the run has grown to include more than 8,000 participants and has donated $1.6 million to the homeless community in Nashville.

“For me personally,” Foster says, “the run was a challenging but fun event that brought our community and families together… It was rewarding to know that we were running to help decrease hunger for homeless people within our community.” Foster’s research as an RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholar aims to decrease suffering; her current project involves developing a legacy-making intervention which will be used to test the effects on suffering in children with cancer and their parent caregivers.