CHOP Steps Up During the Pandemic

By Tessi Ruiz

Program Associate, Community Impact

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a 2021 Civic 50 Greater Philadelphia Honoree

A group of CHOP employees volunteer at a COVID-19 Testing Site.

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down much of Philadelphia in spring 2020, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia — and its dedicated employees — kept going strong. Beyond those involved in direct patient care and virus testing, over 270 employees mobilized as volunteers to do what they could to ensure the health and well-being of our patients and their families and those in their community.

Supply chain employee Michelle Belser wrote encouraging notes to her senior citizen neighbors, and asthma navigator Charmane Braxton helped her elderly neighbors by providing them with food, taking out their trash and picking up their medications. They are among the hundreds of CHOP staff who reached out formally and informally to help.

When June’s civil unrest rocked Philadelphia and the neighborhoods close to the hospital, CHOP employees again stepped up. The team at the Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pediatric Care Center created a list of pharmacies that were still open so families knew where they could fill prescriptions. Another group of employees helped clean up the West Philadelphia area following protests.

Employees wanted to give back, especially in this time of great need, but the lockdown made it difficult to find ways to do so. To make it easier for CHOP employees to volunteer, CHOP’s Office of Community Relations gathered opportunities that were deemed safe and posted them on CHOP’s intranet. At the start of the pandemic, they identified virtual volunteer opportunities. After a few months, they began to work with partnering agencies to provide safe in-person activities for employees to serve the community.

The hospital also put its resources behind a COVID-19 Employee Grant program, an opportunity for employee-volunteers to propose meaningful ways to help in the community and receive up to $5,000 to turn those ideas into reality. Nearly 20 different projects received funding. Many grant recipients partnered with community nonprofits to bolster their efforts or built on existing relationships to allow programming to continue after adapting to pandemic restrictions.

Here is a sampling of the ways CHOP employees addressed community needs exacerbated by the pandemic:


  • Food, Supplies and More

    Dr. Meera and Dr. Fabio volunteer in CHOP’s COVID-19 ininicative around providing food and needed supplies to local communities.

Remember early in the pandemic when stores had many empty shelves? For families with limited resources, securing those goods was next to impossible. CHOP employees worked with other nonprofits to fill the gap.

CHOP partnered with the Cherry Hill Food Pantry to provide food and basic hygiene items to families in the Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Mount Laurel and Marlton, N.J., area.

Families from the Kennett Square area could pick up household cleaning and paper products, which are not supplied by food banks, and raw materials (fabric, thread, elastic, etc.) to make cloth face masks — especially for children — through a partnership between CHOP and The Garage Community & Youth Center.

CHOP’s Refugee Health Program teamed up with the Bhutanese American Organization-Philadelphia, Mural Arts Philadelphia and Sate Kampar Malaysian restaurant to safely distributed culturally appropriate food boxes, sanitation supplies, cloth face masks and nutrition information to low-income Bhutanese and Burmese refugee families in South Philadelphia.

CHOP also partnered with Puentes de Salud to support Latinx immigrant individuals and families in South Philadelphia and Upper Darby by providing hygiene supplies and education to slow the spread of COVID-19.

CHOP and Legacy of Hope collaborated to provide food to CHOP Cancer Center families in the Philadelphia area affected by COVID-19 and identified by CHOP social workers as families in need.


  • Recognizing and Addressing Increased Stress

Leaders of CHOP’s Child Adult Relationship Enhancement in Pediatric Primary Care (PriCARE) — a program designed to strengthen caregiver-child relationships, improve child behaviors and reduce the risk of child maltreatment — adapted its in-person group sessions. It created Virtual PriCARE, which added tips for using the skills to mediate challenges posed by social distancing and remote schooling and work.

Medical interpreters, whose jobs put them in the middle of stressful pandemic-related situations, were included in assessments conducted by the Trauma and Resilience in Interpreter and LEP Communities Program, which CHOP supported. The program looked for secondary trauma and the impact of exposure to suffering and distress.


  • Reaching Out to Youth and Young Adults

Youth and young adults in the CHOP Career Path Program, all of whom have disabilities or chronic illnesses, and their families received essential items such as food and basic hygiene products.

The Adolescent Initiative (AI) provided emergency essential support to 50 adolescents ages 13 to 24, who were homeless and/or living with HIV and/or at risk for HIV. The AI team provided gift cards so these vulnerable youth would be able to pay for food, transportation and other essentials.


  • Kids Still Need to Have Fun

CHOP Primary Care, West Chester worked with Studio Ludo to provide play packs to 1,000 patients ages 3 to 12 to help reduce the boredom, anxiety, isolation and stress they may have felt when they were away from playmates.

CHOP partnered with The DREAM Program Inc. to facilitate a virtual summer mentoring program focusing on building competent, motivated readers, fostering problem-solvers, boosting healthy minds and bodies and inspiring artists and creators. The program reached 65 Philadelphians ages 5 to 18 living in low-income housing.

CHOP’s Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center hosted a virtual summer camp for CHOP patients with sickle cell disease who had their traditional summer camp experience canceled due to COVID-19, giving them the chance to connect with their peers and reduce feelings of isolation that came from having to quarantine.


Beyond the Pandemic

CHOP employees found creative ways to give back to their communities at a time when it was needed most, and they continue this commitment beyond the pandemic. MLK Day of Service 2021 was a success with 100 CHOP employees, including some family members, volunteering throughout Philadelphia, Norristown, and Camden, NJ.

Throughout this year, over 50 employees volunteered as virtual reaching coaches and mentors for Achieve Now and Spark for the 2020-2021 school year. Many more volunteered for Farm to Families, MANNA, Jewish Relief Agency, Share Food Program, Upper Merion Area Community Cupboard, Reach Out & Read book distributions, Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation’s Asian Women Wellness Event, Healthy Kids Running Series and more.


Learn more about CHOP’s community programs at