The St. Louis Children’s Hospital Family Partner Lunch Program has provided more than 8,200 meals to families since February.
It’s safe to say that when most people think of lunch, they picture a mid-day meal, a sandwich on the go, or a few minutes to gather with co-workers and share photos and stories. Parents and guardians of little patients at St. Louis Children’s Hospital likely don’t think of lunch at all … until a Family Partner staff member or volunteer knocks on the hospital room door with a boxed lunch in hand.
Mia Malcolm is the St. Louis Children’s Hospital patient and family centered care program manager, and she knows firsthand what it’s like to spend months in the hospital with a child. Her 13-year-old son, Gavin, spent the first nine months of his life at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
“When my son was here, they also took care of me,” Malcolm said. “If I’m not OK, he’ll never be OK. We make sure families have the fuel they need. One part of that is food.”
Food, Malcolm added, is a tough thing because it costs a lot more to eat away from home for three meals a day and not everyone qualifies for food vouchers. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Family Partners set up a weekly buffet lunch for families. It was discontinued for safety reasons and because many parents and guardians don’t leave the room when their child is in the hospital anyway.
The pandemic dealt a devastating blow to many local restaurants and Malcolm said the Family Partners came up with a plan to purchase individual meals from local businesses. The Family Partner Lunch Program kicked off in October 2021 with meals for families in the Sickle Cell Clinic. The heart center, pulmonary, pediatric ICU (PICU) and neurology units were added in February 2022. Staff and volunteers distribute lunches to a different unit each day (Monday-Friday) and have provided more than 8,200 meals since February 2022.
“Our goal is to feed your heart, your spirit, your mind and your stomach,” Malcolm said. “All of us — volunteers and staff — are all connected by the fact that we have a tiny human in our life who has been a patient at St. Louis Children’s Hospital at some point in their lives.
“Sometimes, when your kid is sick, you forget to eat,” she added. “So, we bring them a lunch and we bond over that. We just want to feed you, be there for you and create a safe space for you. It gives families a little hope knowing there is someone else who gets it.”
There are currently 30 participating restaurants in the Family Partner Lunch Program, and nine more will join the program in early 2023.
“COVID was tough, and we want to be able to support our community,” Malcolm said. “We want to be able to showcase our local restaurants.”
Chan and Lefty Davis own Lefty’s Fried Rice, and Lefty said the restaurant was excited to participate in the Family Partners Lunch Program.
“It allowed us an opportunity to strengthen our relationship with the community, St. Louis Children’s Hospital and the families,” he said. “Great food brings a level of joy to the body and soul, and we are proud to be one of the local establishments entrusted with providing that experience for these families.”
Each participating restaurant is asked to provide individually wrapped lunches, provide a vegetarian option and deliver the lunches to St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Malcolm said the Family Partners Lunch Program feeds families each week and can use more local restaurants' participation. For more information, email [email protected] or [email protected]