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Across Massachusetts, the food distribution system is fragmented, under-resourced, and reinforces inequitable systems – particularly in the Greater Boston Area where communities of color continue to be disproportionately impacted by food insecurity. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when food insecurity has more than doubled from 8.2% to 19.6%. Although the federal government programs (P-EBT, SNAP allotment increase, child tax credit, etc.) have prevented a total collapse of the system, the number of food insecure households continues to rise.

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

To effectively address food insecurity in Boston, Health Leads is taking on an oversight, coordination, and capacity-building role, to help local organizations and residents implement solutions that are equity-oriented and community-centered. Our focus is ensuring that efforts to improve the Boston food ecosystem and the state-level policies that impact it, to ensure food systems are sustainable, community-led, and equity focused.

Our Goal

To work in partnership with community members, community-based organizations, and local governments to address food insecurity in Boston. Together we will elevate the voices of the community, alleviate the barriers to food access, and work with policy makers and thought leaders to determine solutions that are sustainable, community-led and equity focused. 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 neighborhood food networks that are equipped to increase equitable access and distribution of food resources. The Neighborhood Food Action Collaboratives (NFAC) are serving Roslindale, Hyde Park, Mattapan, Dorchester, and Roxbury.
  • Collaborating with networks such as theBoston 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 in-person information 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 Project with the City of Boston’s Office of Food Access
multi-year initiative to empower communities to develop their own neighborhood food networks that are better equipped to increase equitable access and distribution of food resources.
Neighborhood Food Action Collaborative (NFAC)
NFAC is composed of local community based organizations and community members that connect Latinx and Black families to culturally appropriate food resources; increase SNAP benefits enrollment through education and outreach; and further develop a multilingual Food Resource Guide serving as a reliable resource for residents to access food programs.
Increasing SNAP Enrollment in Target Neighborhoods
  • In partnership with New England United 4 Justice (NEU4J), we are expanding SNAP enrollment, education, application assistance.
  • Published a  SNAP Gap Data Brief, to give an overview of the social and economic vulnerability of Massachusetts communities.
  • 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
Established a community-driven definition for measuring food insecurity to support improvements in data collection that reflect lived experiences. These measurements will be used to inform programming and policy advancements.
Partner with Boston Public Schools (2020)
Addressed barriers to access fresh food by linking families in East Boston, Dorchester, Roslindale, Hyde Park, and Mattapan to food resources. Outreach to over 1,850 BPS families, with 627 enrolled in ongoing services and over $38,000 of grocery gift cards distributed.

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.

Our Community Partners

  • Albertsons Companies Foundation
  • Boston Public Schools
  • Boston Public Health Commission
  • City of Boston Mayor’s Office of Food Access
  • City Fresh Foods
  • Daily Table
  • FAVOR
  • Hyde Park Food Pantry
  • Mattapan Food & Fitness Coalition
  • New England United for Justice (NEU4J)
  • Neighborhood Food Action Collaborative (NFAC)
  • Mass General Brigham (MGB)
  • Roslindale Food Collective
  • SNAP Gap Coalition
  • Vital CxNs
  • Washington Carver Grand Lodge
  • YMCA of Greater Boston
Massachusetts Equitable Food Ecosystem

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