Serving Community Needs

BayCare Is Working to Heal Hunger

a woman with a mask holding a bag full of food in a patients room
BayCare patients who say they have little to eat at home are given a “Healing Bag” of healthy food before they’re discharged.

No amount of medicine can compensate for hunger or poor nutrition. That’s why BayCare made food insecurity its primary focus for its community outreach in 2021 – from immediate investment in food for those in need to adopting systemic changes that should help all patients get their nutritional needs met.

The timing of BayCare’s contributions couldn’t be better, given the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on many households’ food security. BayCare deepened its relationship with the region’s largest hunger relief agency, Feeding Tampa Bay, including investing $450,000 to support 18 public school food pantries in lower-income neighborhoods across the four primary counties BayCare serves. BayCare also expanded its distribution of “Healing Bags” of food to patients at its 14 acute care hospitals. In 2021, more than 2,650 bags were distributed to patients who identified themselves as food insecure.

Feeding Minds

BayCare and Feeding Tampa Bay partnered to open Feeding Minds food pantries in 18 public schools in four Tampa Bay counties. See the story and video below.

Two other investments that shape interactions with patients are expected to make an even deeper impact over time.

“Our goal is to make hunger no different than any other ailment that is a barrier to health,” said Lisa Bell, BayCare’s director of Community Benefit, whose team has helped drive implementation of the initiatives across the BayCare system. “Food insecurity gets diagnosed and treated – by identifying a dependable source of nutrition not just for today or tomorrow, but for the foreseeable future.”

BayCare has altered its patient record system so that case managers are prompted to ask every vulnerable, high-risk patient with significant social needs about food insecurity and record the answer. Patients are asked questions such as, “In the past 12 months did you worry that you would run out of food before you had money to buy more?” Those who answer “yes” are offered a Healing Bag. Just as importantly, case managers also work to connect those patients with longer-term food access in their neighborhood if the patient wants the assistance.

To facilitate that connection with long-term services, BayCare made another major investment to serve the community: $100,000 to underwrite West Central Florida’s own portal to a real-time listing of social service agencies. The platform works nationwide and has two functions.

Members of the public can go to their local site, such as the one now sponsored by BayCare, “,” and enter a ZIP code to seek out services.

Another function allows authorized users, such as BayCare’s case managers and financial assistance navigators, as well as personnel at other local service agencies, to communicate confidentially to pair patients with resources available in the community. With the patient’s permission, the patient advocate can use the platform to provide a warm introduction for the patient with a social service agency, expediting resources for the patient.

The big picture is to help patients individually and the community holistically. The goal is to better address what the World Health Organization has labeled the “social determinants of health,” which are the social and environmental factors that impact a person’s health, such as dependable access to nutritious food.

“Any health care professional will tell you that food is the first medicine,” said Tommy Inzina, BayCare’s president and CEO. “Without good nutrition, maintaining one’s health is significantly harder and no medical intervention can compensate for what we need first: good and dependable access to food.”

2021 total community benefit graphic totaling 497 million dollars

BayCare Helps School Families with Food Pantries

Many families in Tampa Bay struggle to put food on the table. And the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has only deepened food insecurity for many households.  

That’s why BayCare partnered with Feeding Tampa Bay and public schools in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Polk counties to expand the Feeding Minds program to provide food pantries in 18 elementary, middle and high schools. So far, the organizations have distributed more than 160,000 meals to local families.

“Food insecurity is a very prevalent issue across the four counties in which we serve,” said Keri Eisenbeis, vice president of Government and Community Relations at BayCare. “We created the Feeding Minds program to help provide access to nutritious food and groceries for struggling families in our most vulnerable, lower-income communities.”

“At least one in four children across the Tampa Bay area is food insecure,” said Matt Spence, chief programs officer for Feeding Tampa Bay. “We’re hoping these pantries will help struggling parents secure meals for their children and help them thrive in school and in the future.”

BayCare knows that food is essential to overall health and wellness and to students’ long-term mental, physical and academic success. BayCare and Feeding Tampa Bay strive to provide a variety of foods that are healthy and nutritious. The school pantries are stocked with fresh produce, frozen meats and a wide assortment of dry goods such as flour, rice, beans, pastas, whole grain breads and more.

“We’re thankful to BayCare and Feeding Tampa Bay for bringing this program to Eisenhower Elementary School,” said Jenifer Jernigan, secretary/bookkeeper at Eisenhower Elementary School in Clearwater. “We’re not only feeding students’ tummies, but we’re also feeding their brains. Proper nutrition gives students the energy they need to focus and learn better in the classroom.”

BayCare sharpened its Community Benefit focus on food insecurity in recent years after a 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment identified it as a great need, which has only increased during the pandemic.

Families at the following public schools have access to a Feeding Minds pantry. Contact the school office for more information on pantry hours:

Hillsborough County 

  • Burney Elementary School, Plant City 
  • Dickenson Elementary School, Tampa
  • Idea Hope, Tampa 
  • Idea Victory, Tampa
  • Memorial Middle School, Tampa 
  • Ruskin Elementary School, Ruskin
  • Sulphur Springs K-8, Tampa

Pinellas County

  • Boca Ciega High School, St. Petersburg 
  • Dunedin Highlands Middle School, Dunedin 
  • Eisenhower Elementary School, Clearwater
  • Oak Grove Middle School, Clearwater 
  • Tarpon Fundamental School, Tarpon Springs 
  • Woodlawn Elementary School, St. Petersburg

Pasco County

  • Gulfside Elementary School, Holiday 
  • Richey Elementary School, New Port Richey

Polk County

  • Denison Middle School, Winter Haven
  • TASSEL Program, countywide
  • Westwood Middle School, Winter Haven
a photo of a woman stocking the eisenhower food pantry
Eisenhower Elementary School secretary/bookkeeper Jenifer Jernigan arranges food on shelves in the Feeding Minds food pantry.