With the public health emergency of the pandemic is behind us, the hunger crisis in Masachusetts persists today. GBFB collaborated wth Mass General Brigham's Center for Healthy Weight and Nurtition Equity and MA's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to release its third annual statewide food equity and access report with an exclusive story in the Boston Globe.
Among other key findings, it estimates that 1 in 3, or 1.8 million adults, reported household food insecurity in 2022. New this year, the report also points to child hunger rates of more than 50% among Hispanic and LGBTQ+ households amidst the historic cost of food and conclusion of pandemic benefits. There is record hunger in our community, with our neighbors struggling to put food on the table. They often hve to choose between food and rent, utilities, or other bills, as noted in Catherine D'Amato and GBFB's Health and Research Advisor, Dr. Lauren Fiechtner's op-ed.
It has been no less than 35 years since Nicolas left behind his house and life in Chalatenango, El Salvador, for the United States, yet he shivers even now from flashbacks of violence and war—grainy images of cruelty and loss that have come to define his home country.
When he arrived in Boston in 1988, it was much easier than it is today to find work and get established, he says. He began by packing chocolates, and subsequently took various janitorial positions. Eventually, he was working 70 hours a week for a cleaning service and property-management company. With steady and reliable work, he was building a new life.
But now, at 69 and living alone, Nicolas struggles in retirement. His sole income is the $800 he receives each month in social security, which must cover all his expenses—electricity, gas, cable TV, and more. In the face of daunting inflation, food has become a luxury.
Fortunately, he says, his local food pantry, GBFB partner La Colaborativa, in Chelsea, has proved a blessing. He depends on them for everything from fruit and vegetables to meat and rice. Even better, he adds, the pantry offers cultural staples, such as Maseca—maize flour to make the tortillas and other foods popular with Salvadoreans.
He is so appreciative of the pantry’s work that he has become, one of its most steadfast volunteers. Waiting in line one day last year, he looked around and realized they needed help. Without asking questions, he jumped out of line and began distributing food. After everyone finished cleaning up, he asked if he could come back again. “Everybody said yes,” he said. “And that was it.”
“God put a light in the heart of whoever started this pantry,” Nicolas says, adding—“a light in the heart of anyone who even thinks of helping us in Chelsea.”
The store features an in-house nutritionist and will host classes on healthy eating, exercise, and financial planning.
Stop & Shop has opened a “Community Wellness Space’’ at its Grove Hall store in an effort to help lower rates of food insecurity and chronic illness in the neighborhood at the intersection of Dorchester and Roxbury.
The Quincy-based grocer opened the space in August, saying it will act as home base for consultations with an in-house nutritionist and a hub for free classes on healthy eating, exercise, and financial planning. The exterior of the space features a 25-foot display of “better-for-you foods’’ chosen by a team of registered dietitians. The store also has added 350 new products from Middle Eastern, West Indian, and Caribbean cuisine to cater to the community.
A new “Flashfood’’ program — tested at several Stop & Shop locations outside of Boston — is up and running, too. Through the Stop & Shop app, it offers discounts of up to 50 percent on produce, meat, and dairy nearing its expiration date.
Gordon Reid, the supermarket chain’s president, stressed the urgency of the changes at a time when the pandemic endures and nearly a third of Massachusetts adults are struggling to get enough to eat.
“Things are changing in society, and health equities are becoming more and more obvious,’’ he said. “As an organization, we have a role to play in fighting that.’’
Stop & Shop decided to revamp the Grove Hall store after working with the Boston Public Health Commission, which found that the neighborhood suffers from pressing issues with food access.
In a survey of residents in the zip code 02121, which includes Grove Hall, nearly 35 percent of people said they did not have enough money to buy needed food during the past 12 months. Fourteen percent said they occasionally went hungry.
Christine Sinclair, the Stop & Stop nutritionist, said the store’s efforts are a way to combat those disparaging statistics. During office hours and pre-booked appointments, she hopes to use “Community Wellness Space’’ to teach others to read nutrition labels and shop for healthy food on a budget.
Outside of her responsibilities at the store, Sinclair will attend the events of community organizations, including the Yawkey Boys & Girls Club of Roxbury.
“I want to teach kids to be the change agents for their families,’’ said Sinclair. “It’s about being of service to the community, and in an ideal world, to improve the neighborhood’s health outcomes.’’
The initiatives are just a sliver of Stop & Stop’s efforts in the region. It has spearheaded the creation of in-school pantries at Jeremiah E. Burke High School in April and The Rev. Dr. Michael E. Haynes Early Education Center, opening this month. The company hopes to reduce its food waste by half by 2030.
Other organizations have recently taken similar steps. The nonprofit community grocery Daily Table announced in February that it will open a location in Mattapan Station, in addition to its Codman and Nubian Square stores. Project Bread, a food assistance program, also recently debuted a pilot program that provides supermarket gift cards, online cooking classes, and basic kitchen equipment to those deemed “food insecure.’’
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