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We’re working with partners and communities across Boston to redesign food security with a hyper-local lens. Together, we’re creating an equitable, crisis-resilient food system that ensures everyone can access the food they need to be healthy at the moment they need it.

Across Massachusetts, thousands of families are forced to navigate a fragmented, under-resourced, and inequitable food distribution system just to put food on the table. These challenges disproportionately harm communities of color, especially in the Greater Boston area, where food insecurity has more than doubled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Food Security Challenges

Information gaps for community members to know where, how, and if they are eligible to access food assistance
Insufficient financial resources to support food distribution sites
Lack of healthy and culturally relevant food options that are easy to access
Complex and siloed systems
Cumbersome food assistance application processes

Our Goal

Health Leads’ oversight, coordination, and capacity-building work is helping residents, community-based organizations, and local government officials in Boston build a new, hyper-local food system: one that increases access to healthy food, effectively distributes food during times of crisis, and closes gaps in the existing food system that allow people to go hungry. Together, we’re elevating community voices, alleviating the barriers to food access, and working with policy makers and thought leaders to move away from stop-gap solutions and instead develop and implement solutions that are sustainable, equity-oriented, and community-led. This will be accomplished by:

  • Improving communication and coordination between mutual-aid groups and agencies doing food security work
  • Empowering communities to develop their own neighbor-to-neighbor food networks that are equipped to increase equitable access to and distribution of food resources via the Neighborhood Food Action Collaboratives (NFAC), which now serve Roslindale, Hyde Park, Mattapan, Dorchester, and Roxbury
  • Collaborating with networks such as the Boston Food Access Council (BFAC) and SNAP Gap Coalition
  • Improving access to food resources for immigrants and other populations by maintaining a weekly-updated food resource list for multiple Boston neighborhoods delivered in three languages, and ensuring in-person sharing of SNAP enrollment opportunities.
  • Advocating to address the SNAP gap and improve food access in underserved communities. Approximately 600,000 to 700,000 low-income residents who are eligible to receive the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps, are not accessing them

Our Work in Partnership with Local Communities

Equitable Boston Food Ecosystem (EBFE) Project with the City of Boston’s Office of Food Access
  • This project is a multi-year initiative to empower communities to develop their own neighborhood food networks that are better equipped to increase equitable access to and distribution of food resources.
  • To support the revision of the City of Boston’s Food Access Agenda, Health Leads led the community engagement process and interviewed more than 100 Boston residents, organizations, and mutual aid programs to ensure local concerns and community recommendations were heard and included. 80% of our 60 community-driven recommendations were adopted in the Food Access Agenda for 2021 – 2023, and we’re now working with partners to implement the recommended community-led solutions and share learnings across Boston.
Neighborhood Food Action Collaborative (NFAC)
  • Emerging from needs identified by the community during EBFE’s community engagement process, NFAC was created in response to calls for more local, neighborhood-specific, community-owned solutions to address food insecurity in the Boston area.
  • We use a hyper-local, community-led approach to design equitable solutions that address food insecurity while tackling the root causes of systemic racism and disparities that impact food access for Boston residents.
  • Our first two community groups, Hyde Park/Roslindale (facilitated by Health Leads) & Dorchester/Mattapan/ Roxbury (facilitated by Vital CxNs), aim to create solutions for a more robust, accessible, and equitable food ecosystem in Boston.
  • The program continues to increase SNAP benefits enrollment through education and outreach. It also regularly updates a multilingual Food Resource Guide that assists residents in navigating barriers to food access.
Increasing SNAP Enrollment in Target Neighborhoods
  • In partnership with New England United 4 Justice (NEU4J), we are expanding SNAP enrollment, education, and application assistance.
  • We recently published a SNAP Gap Data Brief which gives an overview of the social and economic vulnerability of Massachusetts communities.
  • Health Leads is an active member of The Common App Coalition, a coalition of more than 150 organizations across Massachusetts committed to reducing hunger and alleviating poverty.
Support Community Measurement Development
  • We established a community-driven definition of food insecurity to support improvements in measurement and data collection that reflect residents’ lived experiences. These measurements will be used to inform programming and policy advancements.
  • We partnered with Boston Public Schools (BPS) in 2020 to address barriers to food access, linking families in East Boston, Dorchester, Roslindale, Hyde Park, and Mattapan to food resources. We conducted outreach to over 1,850 BPS families, with 627 enrolled in ongoing services and over $38,000 of grocery gift cards distributed.

Our Community Partners

Related Resources

  • SNAP Gap Data Brief  – An overview of the significant gaps of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits program that impacts the social and economic vulnerability of various communities across Massachusetts.
  • Massachusetts SNAP Gap Data Mapping Tool – The brief showcases a new data mapping tool comparing the social and economic vulnerability of several Massachusetts communities to the existing “SNAP Gap.”
  • Food Resource Guide (updated weekly) – A guide of available food resources in Boston neighborhoods including Dorchester, Mattapan, Roxbury, Hyde Park, and Roslindale. Available in three languages.
  • Holiday Resource Guide – In partnership with Boston Food Access Council (BFAC) and City of Boston Office of Food Access a list of locations to access food during the holiday season. Available in six languages.
  • Dorchester Reporter – news article highlighting the Dorchester/Mattapan Neighborhood Food Action Collaborative group.

Join Us

Reach out to learn more about how to support this initiative or become a community partner!

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