Be Connected: Stories from our employees in the Mayor's Office of Food Access
This week's story is about the City of Boston's Office of Food Access.
Accessing healthy, affordable food was a challenge for many Boston families before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Now, food insecurity in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has doubled. In the City of Boston and across the nation, the communities hit hardest by the pandemic, including Non-Hispanic Black, Latinx, immigrant, and low-income families, are disproportionately likely to experience food insecurity as well — the result of which can exacerbate existing health disparities and lead to long-term health consequences.
The City of Boston’s Office of Food Access (OFA) has been working tirelessly to support these communities and ensure all Bostonians have enough to eat. “Food access is an equity issue that we have been addressing long before COVID,” said OFA Director Catalina Lopez-Ospina. “We are constantly working with our partners to strengthen our systems and respect people’s dignity.”
OFA, in collaboration with other City departments, agencies, and community partners, took a number of steps in response to the pandemic. “We had to work together, and quickly, in order to stand up a citywide food system that reaches every family and community in need,” said Lopez-Ospina. Those efforts included creating a city-wide produce delivery service, increasing funding for organizations and programs offering food resources, and providing free breakfast and lunch meals to all Boston kids and youth. Currently, there are 52 active youth meal sites across the City of Boston, including 26 “super-sites” where families can pick up three days of meals in one trip for each child. The City is now working to ensure these sites can provide groceries as well as packaged meals.
As food insecurity has risen, so has the share of households relying on public assistance programs like SNAP or WIC to keep food on the table. In order to ensure eligible residents can make the most of their benefits, OFA stepped up their promotion of City programs like Boston Double Up Food Bucks, which provides 50% off on fresh fruits and vegetables bought with SNAP benefits at participating stores. They are also doing outreach to support and partner with more small grocery stores, bodegas, and corner stores to bring affordable fresh produce to their community and expand SNAP to more stores.
Not every Bostonian is eligible for federal assistance programs like SNAP and WIC, however. With the support of the Boston Resiliency Fund, and in collaboration with Fair Foods, a nonprofit food rescue organization and the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Advancement, the OFA team has connected with 14 nonprofit organizations serving a wide range of immigrants who are not eligible for such programs, ensuring they have access to the food resources they need.
Despite the enormous efforts of OFA and their partners in the last year, thousands of Bostonians still need our help. OFA is gearing up to launch the next CANShare fundraising campaign, which will support initiatives under the Mayor's Food Access Agenda, including the expansion of the Double Up Food Bucks program, in order to build community food security and ensure more Bostonians have reliable, consistent access to good food. CANShare 2021 will launch in the coming weeks, and OFA will once again be asking all City employees to get involved and help end hunger in Boston for good.
Thank you to the Employee Assistance Program team for sharing your story. To submit your own “Story From Our Employees”, write to us at BeConnected@Boston.gov!