The holidays can be an uneasy time.
There’s travel, gifts, weather to monitor, awkward family dynamics to prepare for. The list goes on.
However, one point of uncertainty often arises around food. We’re not talking about which relative wins the best green bean casserole or yam contest.
Some families aren’t afforded that luxury. Some just want to make sure they can eat on the holidays.
Whether you realize it or not, you likely know someone who has been affected by holiday hunger. Maybe it’s even been you yourself.
According to Feeding South Dakota, a subset of Feeding America and long-standing partner with Sanford Health, one in nine individuals are food insecure. One in six children are food insecure.
In South Dakota, where there are nine Native American tribal reservations, hunger and poverty hits those communities especially hard. These numbers are often exasperated during the holiday season.
The employees at Sanford Health in Chamberlain, South Dakota, know how big of an issue this is. Which is why they came together to fight hunger in their area.
Jessica Neilan is the community liaison at Sanford Health in Chamberlain. She said one of the things that makes Chamberlain such a special area is how much neighbors help neighbors.
The yearly Thanksgiving meal is no better example of this. Every Thanksgiving, Sanford Health and the City of Chamberlain help to put on a free Thanksgiving meal.
Because of the ongoing pandemic, this event has been cancelled the past two years.
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Neilan said without that meal, a big need was left unfilled.
“To some families, without that, there wasn’t a Thanksgiving dinner. So, when we were unable to come together during the pandemic last year, we came up with the idea, and a lot of our staff joined together and we said, ‘what can we do to make sure families still can share that meal?’,” she said.
Leaders at Sanford Chamberlain pitched the idea to their staff of donating funds to purchase meals for families.
The Sanford family “really got behind the idea,” according to Neilan. At first, they were hoping for 25 meals.
The goal of 25 turned to 50.
Then from 50 to 75.
“Before you knew it, we were able to do 100,” Neilan recalled.
In a perfect world, the Thanksgiving meal would’ve taken place in person in 2021.
But the world isn’t perfect, and a face-to-face meal wasn’t possible amid the ongoing pandemic.
Related: Holiday season can be great time to give back to community
So meals were again handed out at Thanksgiving time in 2021. But the Sanford staff wanted to do more.
“We had staff visiting with us and said ‘could we do it for Christmas? We have folks that could really, really use it for Christmas,’” Neilan said.
More staff donated, and because of this, more families ate a full meal.
“We were able to do a hundred kits again. The kits this year, for Christmas, have items such as pork loin, potatoes, vegetables, a pie, dinner rolls, and Christmas treats. They’re going to be packaged and boxed, and anyone and everyone is welcome,” Neilan explained.
This is not in the job description of the Sanford Health employees in Chamberlain.
They do this out of the goodness of their hearts, and because they care about their neighbors and community.
“It’s in our missions and it’s in our values to go above and beyond and to help serve. Not just in the day-to-day things we do, but truly going above and beyond and finding the need of the community.
“Do we have to do this work? Do we have to donate and do these things? No, but that’s who we are. That’s who we are as a system.”
Posted In Chamberlain, Community, People & Culture, Rural Health