Students from Quinnipiac University’s Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine are helping Greater New Haven residents most affected by the pandemic and its economic impact.
Netter’s COVID-19 Student Volunteer Corps is comprised of 132 volunteers from Connecticut and across the country, with most members donating their time at local food banks.
“Helping our local communities is just part of the fabric of Netter,” said Rose Pitkin, a third-year medical student and volunteer team captain at Loaves and Fishes in New Haven. “There is a huge need for food assistance. To be able to go out and feel like you are really making a difference is important to us because we cannot be in clinics or hospitals right now and we are not seeing patients. Helping people is ultimately what we are here to do.”
Loaves and Fishes is part of the Coordinated Food Assistance Network (CFAN), which provides free, weekly home deliveries of food to those in need living in New Haven, East Haven, West Haven and Hamden.
CFAN, which was created in the spring of 2019, also coordinates deliveries for local food pantries, including the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen (DESK) of New Haven, FISH of Greater New Haven, Jewish Family Services of Greater New Haven, the M.L. Keefe Community Center of Hamden, the Sunrise Café of New Haven and Witness to Hunger of New Haven.
Quinnipiac’s medical students practice social distancing while volunteering to unload, pack and deliver food. Some students donate their time from home by placing calls to participants, some with language barriers, to enroll them in the program.
“The students from the Quinnipiac have been a remarkable help to us,” said James Cramer, executive director of Loaves and Fishes. “At the beginning of the pandemic, many of our volunteers had to stop volunteering with us because they were over 60 or immunocompromised. Volunteers like Rose stepped in and really provided consistent leadership in making sure that we could continue our programs.
“Loaves and Fishes is now providing groceries to over 1,000 of our neighbors every week and the Netter students are a big part of that,” he continued. “We rely on them to help us pack bags and provide logistical support to organizing volunteers and management of our inventory.”
Each week, Quinnipiac students help send more than 2,000 bags of groceries to the Greater New Haven community. Wendy Sewack, assistant director of the Institute for Global Public Health at Quinnipiac, said Netter students are required to perform 30 hours of community service before graduation, “but most, if not all, go above and beyond.”
Dr. Traci Marquis-Eydman, associate professor of medical sciences, serves as director of the Netter Student Volunteer Corps. She said younger volunteers were especially needed at food pantries because of the pandemic.
“When COVID-19 struck, there was an overwhelming, positive response from students who wanted to stay engaged, wanted to be involved and wanted to help, whether they could do it in person or from home,” she said.
Pitkin, who lives in New Haven, has donated more than 110 hours at Loaves and Fishes since March 27. She said volunteering, “keeps you connected to the community and helps you stay engaged when everything else feels like it’s falling apart around you.”