John Anaya, M.D., a second-year internal medicine resident, helps Olivia Hendrix bag food items at Feeding the Gulf Coast.
The University of South Alabama Internal Medicine Residency Program recently raised more than $6,500 for Feeding the Gulf Coast’s Backpack Program. The program helps meet the needs of children with food insecurities by providing them with nutritious and easy-to-prepare food to take home from school on weekends.
According to Judy Blair-Elortegui, M.D., who serves as the internal medicine residency program director and an internal medicine physician with USA Health, it is vital for physicians to be civic-minded and approach healthcare from a holistic mindset. “Our residents are happy to be involved in the community that they serve,” said Blair-Elortegui, who also serves as associate professor of internal medicine at the USA College of Medicine. “Addressing hunger is an important issue that we work to help address for our patients through our Boxing Out Hunger program as well as the students in the backpack program.”
Keniel Pierre M.D., chief internal medicine resident at USA Health, led the service project at USA Health the past two years. The original goal was to collect enough money to sponsor one or two children for the school year. Instead, they have been able to sponsor 43 children and distribute 550 bags of food.
The backpack program benefits students at Holloway Elementary School, a partner in education with USA Health University Hospital. Pierre said he is inspired to do even more. He would love to one day be able to provide every child at the elementary school with supplies and a toy for Christmas in addition to raising money for the backpack program.
“I strongly feel it is imperative for physicians to give back to the community they serve,” Pierre said. “It goes toward establishing a deeper and more trusting relationship between physicians and patients.”
Pierre decided to focus on giving back to school children after he discovered a need that was not being filled. “It was unfathomable that a child could go an entire weekend without a hearty meal and return to school Monday starving,” he said.
The passion he had to help served as the fuel to establish the annual donation drive.
Brittany Brown, director of operations for internal medicine at USA Health, helped the group make more connections. It was because of her involvement that donations were received from Pathway Church and the American Legion.
Members of the USA department of internal medicine said they love being able to give back and make a difference. “Everyone from the medical students, interns, residents, attendings, and administrators donated,” Pierre said. “Some even gave twice!”
Learn more about the Feeding the Gulf Coast Backpack Program.