Medtronic Foundation resources amplify the impact of volunteers, improving health outcomes and local communities.
Armed with hand sanitizer and outfitted in hairnets, Katie West and her 20 fellow team members line up at the packing stations in the employee entrance of the Medtronic facility in Mounds View, Minn. They’re ready to defend their record.
Five … four … three … two …one …
Suddenly, there is a blur of activity, as Katie and her team fill, weigh, seal and pack food pouches to the driving beat of pop music playing in the hallway. They have 30 minutes to see how many meals they can pack as part of a Meals From The Heart ThrowdownTM held at the campus during the last week of June. At the end of the event, the meals are distributed by partners to local food bank.
West’s team is determined to repeat as Mounds View’s top team by packing the most meals. Katie’s team, which set the Medtronic record in 2017 by packing 5,808 meals, picked the last time slot so they would know how many meals they would need to pack to retain bragging rights and win another acrylic trophy engraved with their team name.
“Clinical is really competitive and we thought it would be fun for three groups within the clinical department to go up head-to-head,” said West, who is a clinical research manager in Medtronic’s Cardiac Rhythm and Heart Failure Field Clinical Organization.
Behind this fun, lively, friendly competition is a serious purpose: to improve community health by addressing the pockets of hunger and food insecurity that exist even in some of the wealthiest communities in the United States and beyond. Food insecurity, as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, refers to a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.[i] In the United States, food insecurity is surprisingly common, as one in eight people overall and one in six children struggle with hunger.[ii] Hunger is on the rise globally, as 815 million people, or about 11 percent of the world’s population, are undernourished; in the United States, about 5 percent of the population is considered undernourished.[iii] [iv]
This particular meal packing event has gone global over the last few years, now including facilities in Tempe, Ariz., Northridge, Calif., Framingham, Mass. and Miami Lakes, Fla., as well as four facilities in The Netherlands (Maastricht, Heerlen, Kerkrade and Eindhoven).
So far, the meal packing events have drawn robust participation. In Mounds View, 1,262 people participated this year – a third of its workforce of 3,800 people. In Maastricht, 275 out of 350 employees participated in the event.
The event aligns with Medtronic’s Project 6 initiative, a global volunteerism effort in which all employees are encouraged to give back to the communities in which they live every June. Some of the opportunities employ the skilled service of Medtronic employees; others, like meal packing, are hands-on events. Across the globe, employees give more than 58,000 hours of service in 52 countries, benefitting 867 organizations. The month-long push serves as the beginning of the year-long focus on employee volunteerism.
This volunteerism effort is one of many made possible by the Medtronic Foundation, which provides the tools and resources to help Medtronic employees identify local needs, coordinate and publicize events, recruit colleagues to volunteer, and sign up to participate. The Medtronic Foundation also awards Impact Grants, which provide funding for team and individual projects that go above and beyond in their volunteer impact on a community.
Medtronic employees are often surprised to learn about the need for nutritious meals in nearby communities that seem generally well off. For instance, many Medtronic employees in The Netherlands, where only about 5 percent of the population are undernourished, [v] were shocked at how many of their fellow Dutch citizens face food insecurity. Likewise, many Medtronic employees at the Mounds View campus were surprised to find that one out of three students in the Mounds View Public School District receive free and reduced meals, said Keith Hebert, senior director, Clinical Research, and organizer of Medtronic’s Meals from the Heart Throw-Down as well as a leader of one of the teams.
Hunger, or food insecurity, can have far-ranging effects. Research shows that children who are food insecure are more likely than other students to suffer from poor academic performance, inability to concentrate, headaches and stomach aches. [vi] The lack of access to good, nutritious food is hard on a person’s health, and can even lead to obesity when people become over-reliant on “junk food” – low-cost processed food full of starch and sugar. [vii]
Overall in Minnesota, about one in 11 people struggle with hunger, including one in eight children. [viii] Each year in Minnesota, there are more than 3 million food bank visits, or 9,000 people a day. [ix] The state of Minnesota spends at least $1.6 billion a year on costs related to the effects of hunger, such as healthcare, medication, education and lost productivity at work and school. [x]
Food insecurity rose along with joblessness during the Great Recession in 2008, said Tom Thiets, founder, president and a director of non-profit, Meals from the Heart. Families where a member loses his or her job or suffers an illness may be forced to decide between making a car or house payments and putting a healthy meal on the table, he said.
“It’s in every neighborhood and it’s very silent. If you have to show up at the food bank, it’s a big dose of humility,” Thiets said.
Since free and reduced school breakfasts and lunches may be the only meals many kids can count on, summer is a particularly challenging time for them. In addition, giving slows down at food banks in summer, said Todd King, chief financial officer and member of the board at Meals from the Heart.
As a result, by taking place in the summer, the Medtronic food-packing effort comes at a time of year where the need is critical, Thiets said.
Meals from the Heart provides six meals packed in each bag, each meal meeting nutritional needs by providing 7 grams of protein and 20 vitamins and minerals through rice, soy, vitamins and vegetables. A chef donates his time to the organization to design meals that offer nutritional food while also appealing to the tastes of the recipient. Because these meals stay local versus global delivery, the meals can and are seasoned to local preferences. There are several varieties of meals, including “Fiesta Rice,” and a new one coming later this year, “Alfredo Primavera.”
All of the meals packed in Mounds View are distributed in Minnesota and Wisconsin to 70 food outreach sites that serve 17,000 families every month. Last year, 3,290 Medtronic volunteers on 189 teams packed 692,543 meals. With tools supplied by the Medtronic Foundation, the hope is that this locally sourced, locally-delivered meal packing event can expand even further. Next year, the goal is that Medtronic volunteers will pack 1 million or more meals, Hebert said.
[i] U.S. Department of Agriculture. Definitions of Food Security. Accessed July 13, 2018. https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/definitions-of-food-security/
[ii] Feeding America. Hunger in The United States. Accessed July 13, 2018. http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/the-united-states/
[iii] Food and Agricultural Organizations of the United Nations. The State Of Food Security And Nutrition
In The World 2017. http://www.fao.org/state-of-food-security-nutrition
[iv] Global Food Security Index. United States. https://foodsecurityindex.eiu.com/Country/Details#United%20States
[v] Global Food Security Index. The Netherlands. https://foodsecurityindex.eiu.com/Country/Details#Netherlands
[vi] Alaimo K, et al. Food Insufficiency, Family Income, and Health in US Preschool and School-Aged. American Journal of Public Health. May 2001, Vol. 91, No. 5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1446676/pdf/11344887.pdf
[vii] Trehaft S and Karpyn. The Grocery Gap. Who Has Access to Healthy Food and Why It Matters. Philadelphia, PA: The Food Trust and PolicyLink, 2013. http://thefoodtrust.org/uploads/media_items/grocerygap.original.pdf (accessed July 2018).
[viii] Feeding America. Hunger in Minnesota. Accessed July 13, 2018. http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/minnesota/
[ix] Hunger Solutions. Food Shelf Visits On Pace To Top 3 Million For Seventh Year. http://www.hungersolutions.org/data-posts/food-shelf-visits-pace-top-3-million-seventh-year/
[x] Hunger Free Minnesota. Cost/Benefit Hunger Impact Study. September 2010. http://secondharvestncfb.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/HFMN-Cost-Benefit-Research-Study-FULL-9.27.10.pdf