Feb 3, 2017

Ann's Story


Seventy-six-year-old Ann lives on a fixed income in a Newburyport subsidized housing complex. Laid low by a long convalescence, Ann found herself unable to afford the healthy food necessary for her to recover and stay strong. With help from The Greater Boston Food Bank, Ann applied for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, also known as food stamps. Today, she has enough nutritious food to eat each month, and she can use more of her limited resources for other living costs, such as heating bills and health care. 

This is Ann’s story.

“I worked all my life in many different jobs, but eventually settled on teaching art. I believe everyone is innately creative, and I love my work. I even had my own after-school art studio for a number of years, but found it increasingly difficult to earn a sustainable living. But I was lucky to find a home in the housing authority, and I have some social security.

A year and a half ago, I had major surgery with complications, which put me into a rehabilitation facility. So I had less money for food, and it was harder and harder to make ends meet. I needed help, but I was afraid of being judged. Besides, I never thought I’d qualify for food stamps.

Finally, I reached out to my local Council on Aging, and they connected me with The Greater Boston Food Bank’s SNAP coordinator. I can’t tell you how different the experience was from what I’d feared. I thought it would feel punitive and judgmental. Instead, I felt completely understood and encouraged. The coordinator was a godsend. She helped me with the complicated paperwork to apply for SNAP benefits. But it wasn’t just what she did, it was how she did it—efficiently, but with kindness.

Now, SNAP is extending my food budget so that I can buy fresh fruits and vegetables, which are expensive, and plan for healthier meals. I feel a helping hand has been held out to me, and I’m very grateful. 

GBFB’s programs for seniors include monthly Brown Bag grocery distributions at 15 partner sites. We also administer the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s nutrition program for low-income seniors, as well as provide information and support to help eligible seniors access Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Learn more at GBFB.org/our-programs

Nov 14, 2016

Lana's Story

Lana and her son.
Lana and her son.

Lana is a recently divorced mother who depends on the Pembroke Soup Connection to feed her young sons. She and her family are like so many in eastern Massachusetts who are struggling to make ends meet. More and more are turning to The Greater Boston Food Bank’s (GBFB) member agencies for the food they need to stay active and healthy.

This is Lana’s story.

“Both of my sons have special needs – the younger is severely autistic, non-verbal and in a wheelchair – and there’s no one else who can give them the care they need. I had a career in IT, but there’s just no way I can be there for my children and hold down full-time employment. Last summer, I lost my part-time job because I had to put my boys first. When my ex-husband got laid off a few months later, he was unable to pay child support. All of a sudden, we were in serious trouble. “You never think you could be someone who can’t afford to feed their kids.

“It was just before Thanksgiving last year and I’d decided that, no matter what, we were going to have a traditional holiday meal. So, when we drove past the Pembroke Soup Connection and saw a sign offering ‘free’ turkey and other holiday foods, my older son – who has autism – got excited and urged me to stop. I’d never been to a food pantry, and was worried about the stigma that comes with needing that kind of help. I almost didn’t pull over, but I’m so grateful that we did.

“First of all, the people were so friendly and welcoming. They took an immediate interest in my sons, and were incredibly patient and caring. They made sure my son had foods that considered his peanut allergy! I was feeling down on myself, because I couldn’t afford turkey for Thanksgiving, but their warmth and support changed that.

“Now, we visit the Pembroke Soup Connection twice a month. And because food is so expensive, the fresh fruits and vegetables and meats we get there, not to mention healthy snacks and juices, frees up money for other essential needs, like paying bills and providing a good life for my boys.

“I tell my friends, ‘don’t feel sorry for me, because what’s happened to my family could happen to anyone.’ Some of them need help, too, and I encourage them to reach out for it. With my sons back in school this fall, I can go back to part-time work. We’ll be ok. I know things will continue to get better, and we’re not alone. The Pembroke Soup Connection serves more than 1,200 other clients a month and receives about 90% of all their food from GBFB.”

Aug 16, 2016

Connecting the Dots Between Hunger and Health

Dr. Kathryn Brodowski
Dr. Kathryn Brodowski

As a specialist in preventive medicine and GBFB’s first Director of Public Health and Research, Kathryn Brodowski, MD, MPH, is passionately committed to “connecting the dots” to solve health problems. After seeing many patients diagnosed with chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, lung disease, depression, and obesity, she chose to focus on the bigger picture.

What struck me was not only the volume of patients facing chronic health issues, but the number who returned to the hospital for exacerbations of their illness. I realized ‘Band-Aids’ aren’t enough.” She explained. “I wanted to get at the root causes of my patients’ poor health, and that’s when the world of food insecurity opened up to me. I saw that access to nutritious foods played an important role in preventing or helping to treat their disease.”

A 3-Pronged Approach

At GBFB, Dr. Brodowski is working with our new Food Security Task Force to bridge the connection between hunger and health, while also forging partnerships with community health centers to address food insecurity through a 3-pronged approach.

First, she is leveraging GBFB’s powerful logistical and distribution capacities to provide community health centers and their low-income patient populations with onsite Mobile Market fresh produce distributions. Participating patients choose from a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, and receive healthy recipes and nutrition information. To maximize impact, these Mobile Markets are being piloted in communities with high levels of food insecurity as identified by GBFB’s hunger mapping technology.

Secondly, she is encouraging community health centers to implement Hunger Vital Sign™ screening, originally developed by Children’s HealthWatch, a simple 2-question method to identify patients struggling with food insecurity.

Finally, she wants to empower providers with practical steps they can take when a patient screens as food insecure. She is developing a ‘tool kit’ to connect food insecure patients with the food sources and community resources that are vital to their health. Instead of existing in silos, medical and community organizations can collaborate and contribute to patients’ overall health.

Healthier Lives, Healthier Communities

It is an opportune time for GBFB to be furthering our work to bridge hunger and healthcare. The Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) emphasis on quality of care and lowering treatment costs for chronic health conditions is putting pressure on the medical field to collaborate with organizations like GBFB to address the underlying issues causing or contributing to disease.

Our belief is that healthcare and hunger-relief organizations are natural allies. By working together we can further each other’s mission – to End Hunger Here and improve health. We’re particularly focused on vulnerable populations, like seniors and children.

“Research tells us that kids who don’t have access to nutritious foods have poor overall health and are at higher risk for behavioral and psycho-social problems,” concludes Dr. Brodowski. Hunger and its associated stress have life-long, negative impacts. Parents can face unthinkable decisions when they can’t afford medical treatment and healthy food for their child. An ounce of prevention with consistent access to healthy foods may go a long way towards stabilizing chronic health conditions and preventing costly trips to the emergency room.”

Prior to joining GBFB, Dr. Brodowski served as chief preventive medicine resident at University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS), where she drafted food insecurity policy recommendations, worked as a nutrition instructor for low-income families, and tested her ideas through a “Food Insecurity Clerkship.”

“A recent survey found that 85% of physicians point to unmet social needs, such as lack of access to nutritious food, as directly leading to worse health. Addressing those needs is vital,” notes Dr. Brodowski. “But doctors and nurses need training and support to help identify food insecure patients and to connect them with needed resources. GBFB’s community health center Mobile Markets represent expanding and deepening clinical-community linkages.”

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