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University of South Alabama internal medicine residents Drs. April Renee Ruffin and Keniel Pierre were among several internal medicine residents who raised more than $2,000 for Feeding the Gulf Coast’s Backpack Program. The program helps meet the needs of chronically hungry children by providing them with nutritious and easy-to-prepare food to take home from school on weekends.
The University of South Alabama Internal Medicine Residency Program recently raised more than $2,000 for Feeding the Gulf Coast’s Backpack Program. The program helps meet the needs of chronically hungry children by providing them with nutritious and easy-to-prepare food to take home from school on weekends.
USA internal medicine resident Dr. Keniel Pierre spearheaded the service project at USA. The residency program’s original goal was to collect enough money to sponsor one or two children for the school year. However, Dr. Pierre’s fellow internal medicine residents “took the charge” and decided to give. With the money they have collected, they plan on sponsoring at least 19 children for the entire 34-week school year.
“It is important for physicians to be a part of their communities,” said Dr. Judy Blair-Elortegui, associate professor of internal medicine and program director for the department. “We should not only provide health care, but also advocate for and participate in creating healthy communities for our patients. She said the benefits are two-fold - participation in service activities also can be an important aspect of personal wellness for residents.
Dr. Pierre got the idea to participate in a community service project after performing an act of altruism last December. Working with USA physician Dr. Antwan Hogue, Dr. Pierre was able to set up a patient at a Halfway House during the holiday. “The smile on the patient’s face when I told him the good news was inspiring and reminded me of the reason I chose medicine – to help people,” Dr. Pierre said.
According to Dr. Pierre, community service puts things into perspective. “Often times -- as physicians -- we focus on the acute issues that bring patients into the hospital or the treatment of their chronic conditions within our short clinic visit,” he said. “Thus, we rarely find the time to understand the patient's specific barriers to our treatment plan.”
Looking at the big picture, Dr. Pierre said you realize there are things that medications or surgeries can't fix. “Your penicillin won’t find this diabetic a home to live in so he can keep his insulin refrigerated,” he said. “The medication you prescribed won’t be filled when a single mother has to decide between that and feeding her children over the weekend. Community service allows physicians the opportunity to donate their time and energy into identifying and understanding these barriers in an effort to use our influence and resources to help resolve them.”
As a previous Service Scholar at Florida State University, Dr. Pierre worked with the local food bank in Tallahassee. Once at USA, he learned about Feeding the Gulf Coast and loved the idea of providing meals for kids who would otherwise go hungry on the weekends. “Being able to feed the kids within our own community was the cherry on top,” he said.
Feeding the Gulf Coast’s Backpack Program is available at schools that have a high incidence of children in need. Every Friday, the school distributes a bag of food to the participating children. The children’s identities remain anonymous to the food bank, donors, and their peers. Bags are placed discreetly in children’s backpacks on Friday afternoons for them to take home over the weekend.
Dr. Pierre expressed his thanks to all who gave to the cause. “This was truly a departmental project,” he said. “Here at USA, we’re not just another residency program; we’re a family that comes together to help other families.”
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