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Denver Health Foundation and Amp the Cause Collaborate to Address Food Security Crisis in Denver

February 1, 2021

Update as of March 30, 2021: Since launching in January, Denver Health caregivers have referred around 10-12 patients per day who identify as food insecure to Amp the Cause’s Fill the Void program. Many of the patients are living through challenging circumstances. One woman was experiencing homelessness while battling Stage 4 cancer. After her referral to Amp the Cause, she received a food gift card and assistance to stay at a hotel. She followed up to report that her chances of beating cancer are now 53 percent. Another patient received support and immediately purchased groceries for three family members who had opened their home to him during a time of need. A single mom living with Volunteers of America also received assistance, which helped her provide for her children. Each of them shared their heartfelt appreciation for the service.

With support from the Denver Health Foundation, Amp the Cause’s Fill the Void program will collaborate with Denver Health to provide grocery gift cards to patients in need.

Denver Health’s patient population is disproportionately more likely to experience food insecurity – defined as reduced food quality or reduced food intake – than the broader Denver community. In fact, in a mid-pandemic community survey of Denver County, 22% of residents identified themselves as food insecure – a number double what Denver County reported in 2018. Yet at Denver Health, up to 25% of all patients screened for food insecurity – and 35 – 40% of children who have been admitted to the hospital and were screened – identified themselves as food insecure. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened this disparity, prompting the need for a well-coordinated response to address the issue.

Carol Okada, a pediatric physician at Denver Health and one of the clinical partners on the food security initiative, has seen first-hand the challenges families face when struggling to afford food. It creates a snowball effect on one’s overall health that leads to more patients, especially children, who require treatment for health problems exacerbated by food insecurity. She has spoken to families directly impacted by this challenge – families who at times have had to choose between providing for medications and other essential needs or putting food on the table.

“No family should have to experience this situation,” said Dr. Okada.

Fill the Void aims to ease this overwhelming burden by providing food for families suffering from hunger and food insecurity due to social and economic factors including poverty, economic turmoil, job loss, housing insecurity, and barriers related to citizenship status. Through the collaboration with the Denver Health Foundation, when a Denver Health patient identifies as food insecure (as determined by a questionnaire completed at the beginning of clinical visits), they receive an information card with simple instructions for connecting with Fill the Void to see if the patient is eligible for food assistance.

Dr. Okada believes that Denver Health is already well-positioned to identify families in need and make a meaningful impact on their lives.

“Over the past few years, Denver Health has been working hard to screen patients for health-related social needs – food, housing, transportation, utilities, and safety – in all locations,” said Dr. Okada. “There is infrastructure in place to help us screen many patients in need of food resources, and that infrastructure continues to grow.”

The Denver Health Foundation has committed $110,000 to this effort and hopes to raise an additional $400,000 to support up to 1,000 families and provide a much-needed morale boost for vulnerable community members.

“Our families are so grateful,” said Christie Isenberg, founder and CEO of Amp the Cause. “Oftentimes they cry, and we cry, and almost always they want a hug. Once you hear their stories and you have an opportunity to meet them, they will always be in your hearts.”

In addition to the Fill the Void collaboration, the Denver Health Foundation is working to fund projects that will provide other support for those facing food insecurity, including efforts to increase enrollment in the WIC and SNAP food assistance programs, which many Denver Health patients qualify for but less than half utilize. Our goal is to significantly reduce the prevalence of food insecurity in our patient population – one family at a time – immediately and well into the future.

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