George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Improving Lives, Improving Public Health Programs: Pandemic Offers Lessons Beyond Classroom Walls

April 26, 2020   /   by Michelle Thompson

For Kelly Williams (BS Community Health ’20), the COVID-19 outbreak has been an opportunity to help families in need by directly applying what she learned during her time at Mason’s College of Health and Human Services.

Due to the sudden economic recession, Williams learned that local food banks are overwhelmed—and many families in the community did not have reliable access to nutritious food. She helped the pastor convert their church into a temporary food bank where she helps assemble packages of paper products and food for delivery to families in need. They have been able to feed 500 families to date.

“Although my community has a local food bank, they have been completely overwhelmed by demand. One father called us to thank us for the delivery, and he explained that his family hadn’t eaten in over a week,” says Williams.

Williams credits Professor Shannyn Snyder, who teaches GCH 445: The Social Determinants of Health, for helping her understand how community systems and social justice issues can shape one’s health—and how public health interventions and policies can address health inequities.

“Professor Snyder taught me how to critically analyze outreach programs to improve them. For example, many families we serve spoke only Spanish. To overcome this language barrier, we coordinated Spanish speaking volunteers to call these households in advance to let them know that they did not need to be in contact with the delivery drivers to receive their supplies.”

“As a future public health professional, I felt it was my duty to step up and help people in need. Through this experience, I learned how fragile the current social programs are—and how public health workers can help.” Williams encourages those who can safely volunteer to do so, and hopes that people will continue to support their local food banks even after pandemic ends. 

"While at Mason, I've been fortunate enough to work on an international research trip to Kenya with Dr. Von Fricken. After I graduate, I will continue working abroad in global health issues."

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