For Immediate Release August 01, 2021

University of Maryland Medical System Announces $1.2 Million Commitment To Address Food Insecurity

UM Upper Chesapeake Health Working To Address Food Insecurity Issues In Harford County

The University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) today announced a $1.2 million commitment to address food insecurity issues in the communities across the state which are served by the organization's 13 hospitals.

UMMS is working with the Maryland Food Bank, the Capital Area Food Bank, Moveable Feast and Meals on Wheels to provide directed grants and other resources to the most vulnerable individuals in targeted areas and help those who are hungry in our communities by supplying food and prepared meals. In most cases, the grants will be an extension of work that is already occurring in local communities.

This initiative falls under the System's Corporate Social & Economic Justice workstream, which operates within the growing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion effort, and is one of several that the System will be focusing on to address social determinants of health. In addition to the financial commitment, members of the System's workforce of more than 29,000 individuals will also have opportunities to volunteer, such as helping pack and/or distribute food in local communities.

"As anchor institutions in the communities we serve, we have a moral obligation to help people not only directly with their physical health needs, but helping them put food in their pantries and on their tables," said Mohan Suntha, MD, MBA, President and CEO of UMMS. "Being secure with food is at the heart of, and one of the driving forces behind, an individual's overall health."

Prior to COVID-19, nearly 11 percent of Marylanders were food insecure, according to the organization Feed America, impacting approximately 380,000 individuals across the UMMS footprint, and the issue was exacerbated as a result of the pandemic.

"We are working with these organizations because they are focused on feeding the hungry now and also on developing broader long-term solutions to food insecurity challenges," Dr. Suntha said. "Partnering with them will help ensure that our resources are used for the most measurable and innovative solutions possible."

UMMS member organizations, including University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health (UM UCH) in Harford County, have been working to address food insecurity issues in local communities and this aligns with those efforts on a systemwide scale.

UM UCH has a long history of working alongside community organizations to address food insecurity issues. Prior to COVID-19, more than 23,000 Harford Countians - nearly one in 10 residents, were food insecure, and more than 8,500 residents, which at four percent is higher than the state average, had limited access to healthy food. In addition, Harford County is stressed with areas of food swamps, defined as having limited access to healthy foods, where only fast food, convenience stores, or corner shops with limited healthy food options are available.

During COVID-19, food insecurity issues increased by 40 percent across Harford County. As part of its response to the pandemic, UM UCH, alongside Healthy Harford, convened a Harford County Food Access Workgroup with more than 25 community organizations. Among other actions, UM UCH provided gloves to the Harford County Community Action Agency so their staff could continue distributing groceries to the public, donated $15,000 to organizations such as the HC Community Action Agency and Mason Dixon Community Services, and worked with the HCFAW to educate community members about benefits available to help maintain family stability.

"As a community partner for health and wellness, we continue to strive towards being a catalyst for positive change, and this new grant initiative is one way in which those efforts are supported," said Lyle Sheldon, President and Chief Executive Officer of University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health.

Quotes from partner organizations:

  • Carmen Del Guercio, President and CEO of the Maryland Food Bank: "As a hunger-relief organization that serves a majority of Maryland, we see great value in working with a similar statewide entity to broaden our reach and provide access to nutritious foods in areas of high need served by UMMS facilities. We look forward to working with UMMS to improve health outcomes among vulnerable populations, and hope this will be the start of a long-term partnership that leads to more opportunities to help Marylanders improve their lives through better nutrition."

    The Maryland Food Bank plans to collaborate with UMMS on approximately 240 Pantry on the Go events, which will serve an estimated 60,000 families. These mobile pantries will provide produce and other nutritious food to zip codes where the needs are greatest in and around UMMS hospital locations.

  • Stephanie Archer-Smith, Executive Director, Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland: "We are thrilled that the University of Maryland Medical System chose to partner with us on addressing food insecurity among homebound aging and disabled adults. It is critically important that anchor institutions like UMMS work together with community-based organizations to address health disparities that result from inequity in our community. We look forward to working together to provide daily nutritious meals to vulnerable aging and disabled adults in support of this important work."

    With the support of UMMS, Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland will provide 25,000 home-delivered meals to 100-150 additional clients in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and Harford County in targeted zip codes from August 1, 2021 through July 31, 2022.

  • Sue Elias, Executive Director of Moveable Feast: "Moveable Feast has been right where we needed to be during the pandemic – delivering medically-tailored meals to Marylanders experiencing food insecurity and serious illness. Over the last year and a half, we have seen a tremendous increase in the need for our services. Through this partnership, Marylanders will receive nutritious meals delivered right to their door resulting in better client health outcomes, decreased return trips to the hospital, improved food security and reduced healthcare costs."