The Medical Home’s Food Insecurity and Health’s pilot team had the opportunity to speak in May at the Association for Maternal and Child Health Program (AMCHP) conference. The pilot launched in 2021 with a short-term goal to increase communication across food and health systems. This approach was necessary to create space and time for each of the pilot organizations to get to know one another before creating any referral, screening processes.

The team included representatives from Children’s Wisconsin, Friedens Food Pantry, Salvation Army, Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, and Data You Can Use (the evaluation expert). This was a group that had no history of work together.

Through a panel presentation, key learnings were shared. A few of those included:

  • The food system and health system are complex. Each has its own model of finance, funding, and staffing. It is critical to start building cross-sector partnerships early, before any planned launch or implementation of shared work. Organizational and individual awareness, trusted relationships, buy-in and commitment, are foundational to long-term success of a cross sector team.
  • The language the food and health system each use to talk about their work and goals is quite different. This can lead to a lack of understanding. Shared language is critical to collaboration.
  • The role of convener is critical. Early on, translation is needed to help the food and health systems talk about their work, and to explore how their work can connect to support kids and families that both organizations serve. This is due to a lack of shared language, experience and knowledge about one another.

The following comment reflects how far we have come from a group of individuals who did not know each other, to finding common purpose and aligning in our commitment to the pilot project.

“When I started with this project, it was handed to me in a folder. I thought – here are more meetings to attend…6 months later, we reached out to Children’s to set up a distribution site at Midtown clinic (following the power outages). Without this partnership, I would not have thought of Children’s and I would not have known whom to ask… This is so much deeper than the pilot work, we are now working with Children’s to test having outreach workers train financial counselors in the ED (for FoodShare enrollment) and offering education to ED staff…”Martha Collins, former Director of Policy, Feeding America Eastern WI

Our 2021 collaborative work served as a foundation where awareness, relationships and trust created the momentum to deepen the work and partnership. Over the next few years, we aim to strengthen communication, coordination and collaboration across food systems, health systems and residents with a long-term goal to address food insecurity and its root drivers.