Fort Worth, TX,
10:27 AM

'A Hand Up, Not A Handout': Cook Children's Center for Community Health and Health Plan Collaborate with Community Partners to Combat Food Insecurity

Cook Children’s Center for Community Health and Health Plan are collaborating with organizations across North Texas to combat the issue of food insecurity.

The United States Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life. Food insecurity is associated with health problems and behavioral challenges for children that may negatively affect their ability to function normally and participate fully in school and other activities.

“Children who don’t get enough to eat — especially during their first three years — begin life at a serious disadvantage,” said Karen Love, President of Cook Children’s Health Plan. “Children facing hunger are more likely to experience problems in school. They’re also more likely to be hospitalized and face risks of serious health conditions such as anemia and asthma.”

According to Cook Children’s 2021 Community Health Needs Assessment, an estimated 303,000 children (nearly one in four children) in our eight-county service area live in households that could not always afford nutritious foods.

Local and national research reflects that food insecurity and diet-related diseases have a disproportionate impact on children in historically underserved communities. Environments, including surrounding neighborhood infrastructure, accessibility and affordability barriers predominantly cause food insecurity.

Food insecurity has always been an issue, but it has been exacerbated by the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation, which has caused the cost of food and many other goods to increase drastically.

Community Collaboration

Cook Children’s Center for Community Health and Health Plan have many programs and resources in place for community health outreach. In addition to those programs, the teams are collaborating with community partners to support families as best they can.

“Recognizing the important intersection between food insecurity, social determinants of health, and healthy children, Cook Children’s embarked on a system initiative in fiscal year 2023 to identify strategies for addressing these important concerns,” Love said. “This initiative strongly connects to our system’s Promise: Knowing every child’s life is sacred, we promise to improve the well-being of every child in our care and our communities.”

Cook Children’s primary strategies are to:

  • Support efforts to screen for food insecurity with health plan and community members, as well as with patient families within our Neighborhood Health Centers and other areas
  • Proactively identify communities with extensive food insecurity needs
  • Improve access to healthy food
  • Increase enrollment in underutilized child nutrition programs, such as SNAP and WIC
  • Increase and support community education efforts around nutrition and food access

“We understand that tackling big issues like food insecurity requires the whole community to come together,” said Emily Epperson, Child Wellness Program Manager at Cook Children’s Center for Community Health. “So many organizations already do so much to serve children and families in their local community. Working alongside them is another way Cook Children’s can fulfill our Promise at a broader scale.”

A Hand Up, Not a Handout

Cook Children’s Center for Community Health and Health Plan connect families to food through a partnership with The Center of Hope.  

The Center of Hope offers short and long-term poverty assistance in Parker County. Throughout its 25 years of service, the nonprofit organization has helped individuals holistically, addressing their physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Center of Hope offers real solutions that will equip and empower individuals to live a more successful life.

Since 2005, the Center of Hope has hosted Camp Hope at local churches to provide an environment for children to focus on community, healthy choices, life skill development and character building. Each summer, campers participate in fun games and activities, learn how to prepare their own meals and more.

“Our philosophy is to provide a hand up and not a handout,” said Staci Markwardt, CEO at Center of Hope. “We developed the Camp Hope program to encompass giving out more than just food. Kids learn to prepare meals and then they get to take home those same ingredients so they’re able to prepare their meals at home. They also get a week’s worth of groceries throughout the month. It’s just a fun camp!”

Markwardt says the partnership with Cook Children’s enabled Camp Hope to provide food and education to 300 kids this summer. The children learned how to cook healthy meals and make healthy choices using the 5210+ Every Day toolkit.

“The support we received from Cook Children’s was amazing,” Markwardt said. “Our true passion is to help people out of their situations. It really does feel so good knowing we’re making an impact, helping kids break that cycle of poverty, so they can learn and grow and not end up in poverty like their generations before.”

Key Partnerships to Address Food Needs

Cook Children’s continues to explore opportunities to partner with organizations and tackle the issue of food insecurity. Recently, Cook Children’s partnered with Tarrant Area Food Bank and H-E-B to open another R.E.D. Market, which is essentially a grocery store on wheels. It’s a refrigerated trailer that includes shelves just like a supermarket, which are stocked with items such fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy items. The R.E.D. Market vehicle will make multiple stops in a single day, connecting families to food, SNAP benefits and additional community resources to address housing, education, and employment. TAFB will work with Cook Children’s to identify specific community neighborhoods in need based on income and food insecurity screening data.

"A Hand Up, Not A Handout"

About Cook Children’s Health Plan and Center for Community Health 

Cook Children’s Health Plan has been serving Tarrant Service Area Medicaid and CHIP families since 2000, ensuring members can access the physical and behavioral health, pharmacy and social support services they need, when and where they need them. The Health Plan is part of Cook Children’s Health Care System, the premier integrated pediatric health care delivery system in North Texas with more than a century of service to area families. Our 150,000+ members and thousands of network providers consistently rate Cook Children’s Health Plan as a top performer in customer service. Find out more at 

Cook Children’s Center for Community Health is home to community research and outreach efforts. The Center is dedicated to preventing injury and embracing wellness through aligned collaborations. Together with our community partners, we aim to make North Texas one of the healthiest communities to raise a child. Learn more at