Courtesy of The Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation Eli Manning and Emmaely
You may know us as a retired NFL quarterback and coach, but we have a shared passion that goes beyond the world of football. We've both walked with, and been inspired by, young people fighting cancer. Our individual experiences have brought us together because we know it is not a platitude when we say no one fights cancer alone. Now, more than ever, we need those in search of doing something that matters to lend a helping hand to families living the nightmare of having a child diagnosed with a life-threatening disease.
September is the month set aside to talk about pediatric cancer. Only 4 percent of the National Cancer Institute's budget is dedicated to pediatric cancer. Tackle Kids Cancer, the philanthropic initiative of Hackensack Meridian Health Foundation, was established in 2015 to raise critical funds for pediatric cancer research and patient programs at Hackensack Meridian Children's Health Children's Cancer Institute (CCI) in New Jersey, and to increase awareness for the vital needs of pediatric cancer patients and their families.
It is also Hunger Action Month. Cancer is expensive, and a study by the National Cancer Institute revealed financial hardship can begin quickly after diagnosis even if you are insured. That's where the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation comes in. It helps with the here and now, providing families with financial assistance for household expenses so they can focus on their sick child.
Courtesy of The Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation Flynn, a patient from the UK, visits with Coach Tom Coughlin during a hospital stay
This is why the Jay Fund and Tackle Kids Cancer are coming together to underscore the incredible difficulties the families we support are feeling. Our organizations have seen and heard firsthand from families who are struggling to put food on the table amid chemotherapy and radiation treatments for a sick child, and it is beyond disheartening.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 38 million people, including 12 million children, experience food insecurity in our nation. And because a child with a serious illness overshadows any and all other challenges a family might find being hurled at them, most people would never assume hunger could also be causing its pangs in these households. And yet, it is all too common.
Mike Blake/Reuters/Landov Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin after Super Bowl XLII
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During the height of the pandemic, the Jay Fund saw a 52 percent increase in requests for emergency assistance for food and rent, and once again, we have been seeing these requests on the rise. At the CCI, Tackle Kids Cancer works closely with funders and its social work team to meet the demands for much-needed financial assistance. A mom in New York City whose child is battling post-transplant lymphoma told us, "Honestly, at the end of the month we are usually running out of food. I mix ramen noodles, and ground meat to stretch it the best I can, and I'll go without or eat less so my kids can be full. I've even gone as far as asking the local store owner to let me pay for my groceries when I receive my assistance check on the 3rd of the month."
Courtesy of The Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation Coach Tom Coughlin receives a hug of gratitude from patient Noah's mom during a hospital visit
It's gut-wrenching to imagine anyone going to bed hungry. We live in the most prosperous country in the world. How is this possible and how does it go unnoticed? Yet, the answer is simple. It requires shared experiences, good and bad, to unite us together. We know this because it is the same philosophy needed for a team to win big games. Since the pandemic took hold of our world, we've seen and experienced widespread hunger, food shortages that have extended to baby formula, gas prices that make us think twice before driving to the grocery store, and inflation that has surpassed a 41-year high. It is seemingly unfathomable, yet here we are once again, all in it together.
Researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign recently revealed the cost of cancer treatment coupled with the price tag for "nutritional products" is a real hurdle for patients and families. Additionally, cancer patients and their parents aren't always asked if they are getting enough to eat. Brenda Koester, the associate director of the Family Resiliency Center at the university and one of the co-authors of the study explained, "The inability to obtain adequate or nutritious food may lead to malnutrition and impact patients' tolerance and response to oncology treatment, increasing their risks of cancer recurrence and mortality."
Courtesy of The Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation Will, pictured with Eli Manning in 2019 at Giants training camp, passed away from cancer in 2020
Parents of pediatric patients already feel helpless when the news of their child's diagnosis is delivered, they should not have to feel that way when it comes to feeding their families. In sharing this struggle, we aren't asking for anything more than a little bit of loving your neighbor as you love yourself and your own family. If you know someone with a child diagnosed with cancer, make them dinner, buy groceries, and check-in on them from time to time to ensure they and their sick child are getting the nutrition they need. Together, we can create a championship team to help others — a coach, a quarterback and you — to inspire generations to come.
Eli Manning has won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants, received most valuable player awards, four Pro Bowl selections and is Team Captain at Tackle Kids Cancer.
Tom Coughlin has won three Super Bowls with the New York Giants, twice as head coach, and is co-founder of the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation.