Newswise — As residents throughout New Jersey have faced increased food insecurity as a result of the pandemic, the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School community has increased its efforts to lend support and reduce barriers to essential resources and services.

Shilpa Pai, MD, associate professor of pediatrics and co-director of Health Equity curriculum at the medical school(right), is leading an effort, along with residents and medical students, including third-year student Elena Georges (left) to address food insecurity in the Princeton area. Every two weeks, they join volunteers from the Princeton Mobile Food Pantry (PMFP), a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization of which Dr. Pai is a board member, to assemble and deliver shopping bags containing fresh groceries, shelf-stable pantry goods, other essentials, educational activities, and themed handouts such as “Heart Healthy Eating,” written in both English and Spanish, to more than 500 Princeton residents.

These bags are then loaded into the cars of volunteers who transport them to the doorsteps of more than 100 families. Dr. Pai stresses that food, hunger, cultural awareness, and health are fundamentally linked, sharing, “Food insecurity has a disproportionate impact on our most vulnerable populations during the pandemic. As a pediatrician at Eric B. Chandler Health Center, I see firsthand how social determinants of health, including food insecurity, affect the health of my patients and their families.” Eric B. Chandler Health Center is a federally qualified community health center operated by Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and the Eric B. Chandler Community Board. 

As part of a residency training program, Dr. Pai takes pediatric residents and students outside the hospital walls to visit community-based organizations like the food pantry to learn about food insecurity and to see its direct impact on the community. “My main objective for the trainees is to understand that if we, as health care providers, create authentic partnerships with community organizations we can bridge the gap between health care and health,” says Dr. Pai.