Hunger During the Holidays in Northern Virginia

Dr. Katherine Fullerton

Dr. Katherine Fullerton is an Emergency Physician in Inova Children’s Hospital Emergency Department. She is a board certified physician in both Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics.

Rebecca Ayde, RN is a nurse in Inova Children’s Hospital Emergency Department.

This holiday season, while many of us prepare to responsibly celebrate and say goodbye to 2020, the rates of food insecurity and hunger are increasing.

What is food insecurity?

Unambiguously, food insecurity equates with hunger and malnutrition. Although Fairfax and Loudoun counties are among the wealthiest in the nation, a significant number of families suffer from inadequate food resources. Many children in our community simply do not have enough to eat. This holiday season, as we see long lines of people and cars at food distribution sites, we are reminded that outward appearances cannot help us determine who is suffering from hunger. Our family, friends and neighbors need our help.

As defined by the USDA, food insecurity is a lack of access to enough nutritious food due to a lack of money or other resources. In 2019, 13.6 percent of households with children in the United States were food insecure, and 11 million children lived in households that did not have adequate food. Due to the economic and social devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, this number has drastically increased. An estimated 18 million children in the U.S. will live in households without adequate food and nutrition in 2020. Closer to home, Fairfax County is home to 70,000 people who live in poverty and need assistance with feeding their families every day. More than 132,000 children in the Washington, DC area need support in order to eat each day.

In the past, school meal programs served as a primary source of nutritional support for children outside of the household. However, with school closures nationwide, this important source of food is often not available. 

To help fix the disparity, for the past six months, Inova Children’s Hospital’s pediatric emergency department has partnered with Food for Others, a local food pantry, as part of our “Hunger Vital Signs” initiative. Families of our pediatric patients are screened for food insecurity. If the answers to the screening questions indicate a need, families are given a prescription for food and nutritional support to take to the food pantry. Of patients screened thus far, more than 20 percent reported inadequate access to food and nutritional resources. 

What are the consequences of food insecurity?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the lack of access to high-quality, nutritionally appropriate food has significant negative consequences for the physical and mental health of children. Some of the consequences of poor nutrition on children include:

  • Worse overall health outcomes
  • Increased hospitalizations in early childhood
  • Poor bone density
  • Increased risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease
  • Increased risk of lower cognitive skills, behavioral and developmental problems
  • Increased risk of stress, depression and anxiety

What can I do if I’m experiencing food insecurity? 

There are many community resources that are available to assist you. We have compiled a list of food pharmacies and other local nutritional assistance programs:

Arlington County
City of Alexandria
Fairfax County
Loudoun County

What can I do to help others experiencing food insecurity?

There are many different ways you can help your community:

Donate Money:
  • Through funds raised by Inova Health Foundation, we can provide assistance to patients and families who are experiencing food insecurity. Make a gift in support of our patient assistance programs.
  • Donate money to food distribution organizations such as Food for Others, Capital Area Foodbank, Loudoun Hunger Relief or any other local foodbank.
Donate Goods
  • Donate nonperishable food items to a local food pantry. Currently, Food for Others is most in need of canned chili, canned chicken, canned fruit, spaghetti sauce and canned soup.
Inova Cares Clinic for Families team members with food donates by Inova team members.
Donate Time
  • Host a Power pack-building event with your neighbors and drop off the completed packs at Food for Others.
  • Volunteer at a local food pantry or soup kitchen such as Food for Others.  Traditionally, retirees have provided a large proportion of volunteer hours at many organizations. During the pandemic, due to risk factors such as age and health conditions, many retirees can no longer provide the in-person volunteer assistance as before. 
  • Learn more about local, state, and federal policies that seek to address hunger here at home. For example, Feeding America has created a pre-written email you can send to your Congressperson supporting federal nutritional assistance programs.

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