Hungry in the summertime

Stanford physician takes action after patients say they don't get enough to eat

Worried about rising hunger among her patients, a Stanford University physician has launched a summer food program at an East Palo Alto school.

Lisa Chamberlain, an assistant professor of pediatrics who has practiced medicine at the Ravenswood Family Health Center in East Palo Alto since 2004, said a growing number of patients have been answering "no" to the standard question asked of all: "At the end of the month, do you have enough money for food and rent?"

"I've heard it over and over," said Chamberlain, who said the uptick began in 2009.

One patient, with a nursing 6-week-old on her lap and her 3-year-old sitting in the exam room, told Chamberlain: "'I'm hungry right now.'

"I know this family really well," Chamberlain said. "Her husband is a day laborer, and he hadn't found work. They're hardworking.

"As pediatricians, we've never seen a time of more material deprivation for children. I've never had so many patients telling me they're hungry.

"We've never had this many people, nationally, on food stamps. It's happening, and it's really profound."

About 45 million people -- nearly one in seven U.S. residents -- received food stamps in 2011, a 70 percent increase from 2007, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Some 70,427 schoolchildren in Santa Clara County and another 21,590 in San Mateo County qualify for the federally subsidized school breakfast and lunch program.

To qualify, a family of four may earn up to $29,965 for free lunches and up to $42,643 for reduced-price school breakfasts and lunches for their children.

Ravenswood Family Health Center has worked with the Ecumenical Hunger Program and other local groups to help feed children and families.

Last Thanksgiving, Chamberlain found herself in the back room of the Ecumenical Hunger Program's turkey distribution, spreading the food out across more boxes so there would be enough to go around for the people lined up outside.

"Then some people started coming back with their turkeys to ask for help cooking them because they were living in their cars. We realized we should have had pre-cooked options," she said.

Over the December holidays Chamberlain began thinking ahead to summer when the federal school lunch program, which supplies free or reduced-price lunches to the 3,000 K-8 students in the Ravenswood City School District students, would go on break.

She consulted with the school district before deciding to seek funds for summer food, raising enough to distribute about 600 packaged lunches a day in the cafeteria at the K-8 Cesar Chavez Academy. She raised funds from Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford University Medical Center, Stanford University and three anonymous local donors.

Ruth Woods, a former teacher and principal who now directs student services for the Ravenswood district, helped Chamberlain identify families most in need.

"We know who our homeless families are, who our foster families are, who's in need," said Woods, who volunteers with the lunchtime food distribution following her mornings of supervising summer school at Cesar Chavez.

The summer school, which offers an academic and enrichment program to 290 students, also serves its own federally funded free-and-reduced-price lunch to enrolled students.

Ninety percent of Ravenswood's 3,000 students meet income guidelines for the federal breakfast and lunch program.

But Chamberlain and Woods stressed that the Stanford program focuses on whole families.

"I can't feed the children and not their parents," Chamberlain said.

Each weekday at noon, a truck from vendor Revolution Foods delivers 600 prepackaged lunches that include a healthy sandwich -- turkey and cheese, ham and cheese, peanut butter and jelly or chicken salad -- and a fresh piece of fruit, pita chips and water.

Chamberlain typically arrives to help with check-in, while Woods and a group of sixth-grade volunteers hand out the allotted number of lunches per family.

Woods said 300 Ravenswood students -- about 10 percent -- are homeless or doubled up in apartments with more than one family.

"I have a lot of families that are with grandparents, or families that are two and three families in a home or apartment," she said.

Chamberlain said, "This is a service-providing community of gardeners and babysitters," noting that in her daily talks with the student volunteers she realized several were unfamiliar with the term "Silicon Valley."

Briana, one of the sixth-grade volunteers, said she and the others were recruited to help "because we're responsible.

"The people here are really nice," she said.

Giselle, another volunteer about to enter sixth grade at Willow Oaks Elementary School, said she enjoys helping people. "And we have fun giving out the food," she added.

The independent Ravenswood Education Foundation, which raises funds for the district, is underwriting the summer academic program and also acting as fiscal agent for Chamberlain's lunch program.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties also has made special efforts to feed children this summer.

According to the food bank's Caitlin Kerk, the agency is providing summer food to local programs that serve children, including Youth Community Service, Lauren's House 4 Positive Change, Palo Alto YMCA, Youth United for Community Action, Nuestra Casa Children's Program, Ecumenical Hunger Program, Build Peninsula, East Palo Alto Boxing Club, College Track, Girls to Women, Building Futures Now and the East Palo Alto YMCA.


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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 21, 2012 at 3:37 pm

I applaud this physician for her sense of humanity, compassion, and dedication. In addition to programs such as these, there should be an equal emphasis on providing people with family planning education. They too have a responsibility in making the decision as to whether or not they can afford to properly support a family. I'm not suggesting that people should be excluded from having children, but how about doing so when they can afford it and won't cause a drain on valuable resources.

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Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 21, 2012 at 11:31 pm

Only takes 3 minutes to donate to Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara & San Mateo Counties:

Like this comment
Posted by Teach-People-To-Fish
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 22, 2012 at 7:34 am

Given the lack of details in this article, one is left with the impression that the hungry lady in the article is in the US illegally—leaving us with the fundamental question of just what obligations US citizens/taxpayers have to feed/house/clothe/compensate people who ignore our laws, and make their way into our cities—only to find that life is hard, even here in the US. If this lady were actually here illegally, the article does the situation no justice by failing to research her background, to find out what life is like in the place she was residing prior to coming to the US.

Given that summertime routinely sees local markets brimming with fresh produce that is inexpensively priced, it is difficult to understand how someone can not find food at this time of year. Of course, if people are inclined to buy more expensive pre-processed food, this does mean they will spend more money than if they do the preparation themselves.

We also have to remember that many foreign nationals send money home, which reduces their own purchasing power here, and often pushes them towards public assistance—forcing US taxpayers into subsidizing people all over the world (but heavily in Mexico and Central America) indirectly.

And we are also left with the question, if these people can not find work in the Silicon Valley—perhaps they should move to somewhere that is less expensive, and they can find work.

After reading this article it's not hard to revisit the situation of whether to give a hungry man a fish to eat, or teach him how to fish so that he can feed himself for life.

Like this comment
Posted by Floyd
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 23, 2012 at 11:02 am

Teach People to Fish: to be here illegally (maybe) in your book she deserves to go hungry? One doesn't have to go for pre-processed foods
to incur high prices with e.g., fresh fruit like peaches priced at $2.99/lb.and during the height of the growing season!
Being hungry all the time is not something that has to be in the richest country on the planet.
What a sad self righteous outlook on life.

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned Retiree
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 23, 2012 at 11:22 am

The irony here is that 139 years of prison maintenance for the murderer in the adjoining story would go a long way in providing food for the hungry and medical care for most of all us who find medical care over-priced whether or not we are insured.

We should dispose of criminals whose DNA double checks their guilt. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by Charlie
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 23, 2012 at 11:31 am

Reading this definitely makes me want to help, but I am not sure what the most direct way to contribute would be. Second Harvest? Ravenswood Education fund? Could the reporter ask Dr. Chamberlain how people who want to support her efforts might get involved -- where to send funds, whether she needs volunteers, etc.

Thank you for brining this to our attention. There is no excuse for hunger in our community.

Like this comment
Posted by local gurl
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 23, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Donate to Second Harvest and Ecumenical Hunger Program. They are AMAZING!!

Like this comment
Posted by WWJD
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 23, 2012 at 4:33 pm

"leaving us with the fundamental question of just what obligations US citizens/taxpayers have to feed/house/clothe"

Maybe you missed the news, some Dude answered that 'fundamental' question a couple thousand years ago.

Quit hatin'.

At the very least, tell us about your volunteer hours every day where you "Teach-People-To-Fish"

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Posted by Lisa Chamberlain (pediatrician in the story)
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 23, 2012 at 5:03 pm

I have been really amazed by the depth of community response to this story - and thanks to all of you who have been moved to want to help. The real heroes in our community who address this issue, year in and year out, are the leadership and staff at the Second Harvest Food Bank ( - who serve the entire peninsula) and the Ecumenical Hunger Program ( who serve East Palo Alto). I know both groups well, having been lucky to have met and worked with them over the last couple years. I cannot say enough good things about them. Please do consider supporting them with either your time or resources if you are able.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 23, 2012 at 5:49 pm

What I love about donating $$ instead of food to these orgs noted above is that your $1 buys approx 3x the amount you'd buy in the store.

Like this comment
Posted by Perspective
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Jul 23, 2012 at 6:51 pm

Dear WWJD: The Dude 2,000 years ago spoke about giving from your own pocket, heart and time, not taking from others to give others' pockets, hearts and time to what you want to give to. In other words, exactly what these guys are doing, donating from themselves to what they believe in.

Like this comment
Posted by WWJD
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 23, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Dear Perspective: I was addressing the poster labelled "teach-people", not to the other generous and good spirited posters supportive of the wonderful actions described in the article.

I'm sorry you didn't understand that.

Do you agree with "teach-people" that the article is fundamentally about a "question of just what obligations US citizens/taxpayers have to feed/house/clothe..." ?

Like this comment
Posted by Just Guessin
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 23, 2012 at 8:48 pm

Hey Teach-People-To-Fish,

Are you by any chance a Republican? Just a guess ;-)

Like this comment
Posted by Perspective
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Jul 24, 2012 at 5:43 am

WWJD: I can see Teach-people's point. The article implies that the people being fed are not here legally. In fact, it says nothing about them. Frankly, even being here illegally has not stopped anyone from getting an EBT card ( formerly called Food Stamps) since 2002, when it no longer was a requirement to prove you were a citizen to sign up for food stamps. So, it IS confusing to me,..why aren't these people getting EBT cards and able to feed themselves?

Not that anyone is for hungry people, of course,and as Americans we don't let people starve..but I DO wonder, where is the EBT money going? Sort of like the millions of uninsured who already qualified for MedicAid/Cal, why aren't they already signed up, why are we calling them "uninsured" when they already qualify for MediCal/Aid? I can't help but wonder the same thing here. I have to ask, why are they hungry, where is the EBT money?

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Posted by WWJD
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 24, 2012 at 9:15 am

Perspective: Congrats, you are getting closer!

You're not for starvation (well, you seem to claim our country isn't, you didn't actually address your belief) then you use these lovely words: "but" "wonder" etc...

Open a thread about whichever program you seek to investigate. That is a noble gesture, certainly more noble than casting aspersions in a thread about some very good people.

In the meantime, celebrate the wonderful, generous people posting here and the community described in the article.

The Big Fella looking down is happy you're coming around! You are almost ready to "own" that you do not like to see your community starving. Good work!

Have a great day!

Like this comment
Posted by Perspective
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Jul 25, 2012 at 6:33 am

Yes, WWJD, I am certain the Dude from 2,000 years ago would have approved of distorting what is written, casting aspersions of being "for starvation" on whomever you wish to smear, and sarcastically assuming you have the lock on WWJD. I am thinking you have a direct line somewhere to the Dude from 2,000 years ago, which gives you your moral superiority and gifted understanding of all things?


Like this comment
Posted by WWJD
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 25, 2012 at 9:44 am

Direct line: "For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink"

Not sure I can find the part about illegals.

I will look in the Good Book of the other major faiths, and let you know when I find mention of status prior to helping the poor.

Flipping through, hmmmmmm, nope, nothing about citizenship status in those either.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 25, 2012 at 10:13 am

How about "Render to Caesar that which is Caesar's".

Back in first century Israel, there were no social services and family loyalty was the only backup for the elderly, disabled and chronically sick. The Pharisees and Priests were more interested in religious law than in helping those in need. Begging was used by those who literally had no other course of action and was possibly a reason for arrest by Roman authorities who could act under their own ideas rather than accepted Roman law. In fact there were no laws to help the poor, the sick, the elderly or the downtrodden Jews. That is why the Jews were looking for a Savior and didn't recognise Him because they were expecting a military style King to overpower the Romans from their land.

Taking the Dude's words out of context is fine, but it is still worth mentioning the context to show the difference between 1st century Israel and 21st century USA.

Like this comment
Posted by Aquamarine
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 25, 2012 at 10:57 am

Huh. Maybe if people put a few minutes into donating, while criticizing, they could mix some kindness in with their sniping - especially since most of them live in the wealthier areas on the *planet*.

Family planning is a great thing, but the horse is already out of the barn. Have any of you really dealt with a hungry child who doesn't have enough food at home? It's heartbreaking.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Fairmeadow School

on Jun 5, 2017 at 8:44 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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