INDIANAPOLIS — Inside the dialysis unit at Riley Hospital for Children, a team of doctors, nutritionists and social workers launched a food pantry to help patients and their families struggling with food insecurity.

With food and gas prices continuing to rise, the dialysis unit is asking the community for help to stock their food pantry. 

In the fall of 2021, the dialysis center converted a storage unit into a food pantry for families to have access to fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and grains.

What’s unique about this food pantry is that it contains foods that fit into these children’s specific dietary needs. Children living with chronic kidney disease are advised to consume foods low in sodium and phosphorus.

“One thing I noticed right away was the kids were here the entire day and weren’t really getting a full meal,” said Dr. Neha Pottanat, a pediatric nephrologist at Riley Hospital for Children. “Some of these families are waking up at 3 or 4 in the morning to get here.”

During the height of the pandemic, the Riley Children’s Health dialysis team discovered nearly 75% of the kids they treated for kidney disease were considered food insecure.

The number was alarming, but not surprising as families with children with kidney disease often struggle with reduced income, high medical expenses and long commutes to the dialysis center making it nearly impossible to maintain a full-time job.

“A lot of our families come from all over the state, two to three hours a day, two to three times a week,” said Kari McCarty, a social worker in the dialysis unit. “They’re up 3 or 4 in the morning to get here on time. That affects their ability to work, kids go to school and trickle down to all sorts of things.”

This means limiting foods that are often the cheapest at the grocery store, such as canned foods, processed meats and packaged snacks. 

“Throughout Indiana, like many states, there are a lot of surrounding food deserts and our families often come from there,” Dr. Pottanat said. “They’re limited where they live and limited because they travel here so frequently so it affects their ability to get to the grocery store even to buy things.”

Because of these specialized diets, the dialysis center is not accepting food donations. Instead, they’re asking for monetary donations that they’ll use to shop for the right foods for their patients.

If you’d like to learn how to donate, click here.