Center for Hunger-Free Communities

Combating food insecurity through financial coaching and peer support
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As the coronavirus pandemic forces so many to reckon with growing food insecurity and increased health challenges, the Building Wealth and Health Network program of Drexel’s Center for Hunger-Free Communities is reducing food insecurity and improving mental health – without distributing any food or medicine. Instead, it focuses on group experiences that promote healing and help people save money and take control over their own finances.

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According to a study, parents of young children (under six years old) who completed the Center’s 16-session, trauma-informed program over a four-to-eight-week period, are less likely to experience household food insecurity than those who did not complete the program, known as “The Network.” The study was supported by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation–Systems for Action, Claneil Foundation Inc., Pew Charitable Trusts and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Since its creation as part of the Dornsife School of Public Health in 2004, the Center has attracted significant financial support from other foundations, including The Heinz Endowments, Newman’s Own Foundation, Philadelphia Foundation and the W. W. Smith Charitable Trust, and corporate foundations and programs including the Campbell Soup Company, ConAgra Foods, Merck and TD Bank. Many local, regional and national partners and government agencies have provided resources. Individual donors can also support the Center and have great impact on its programs.

For far too long policymakers have left social, physical and mental health out of the food insecurity equation. Now we have data to show that the program’s comprehensive financial education and support helps families put food on the table not just for today, but far into the future.

– Professor Mariana Chilton, Dornsife School of Public Health

The Network combines a financial self-empowerment curriculum, matched savings account program (up to $20/month for a year) that includes coaching and peer support to help members heal from adversity, gain stronger connections and build economic security.

In addition to the course, all participants were either receiving cash assistance through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and/or support from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. The findings were recently published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

By addressing the underlying social, behavioral, and emotional issues that frequently accompany food insecurity, previous studies show The Network helps participants heal from adversity, reduce symptoms of depression and feel less isolated. The recent study shows these outcomes also translate into reduced food insecurity, regardless of members’ participation in public assistance programs and their employment status.

“For far too long policymakers have left social, physical and mental health out of the food insecurity equation. But we know these factors very frequently go hand-in-hand,” said the senior author of the study, Mariana Chilton, professor of Health Management and Policy and director of Center for Hunger-Free Communities.

This story is adapted from an article that originally appeared in Drexel Now.

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