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Boston marks food access milestones one year after start of public health emergency

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Food Access

The Mayor’s Office of Food Access emergency food response system included strengthening the network of food pantries and meal sites throughout the City.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh and the Mayor’s Office of Food Access (OFA) today announced various milestones in food access, including one year since the emergency food response began. When the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) declared a public health emergency on March 15, 2020, the City of Boston initiated a response to ensure every Bostonian had access to essential services, including food. Since the declaration of the public health emergency, the Office of Food Access, together with its partners, has distributed 25 million pounds of food; 5.6 million prepared meals across 91 meal sites; 1.2 million meals delivered to residents’ homes; 207,000 grocery bags; and 123,000 produce and grocery staples boxes. Since March 15, 2020, the Mayor’s Office of Food Access has invested $3.8 million into its pandemic-related meal efforts, and the Boston Resiliency Fund has granted $19.88 million in funding to 255 non-profit partners working to increase access to food and other basic needs for Boston residents. 

The Mayor’s Office of Food Access emergency food response system included strengthening the network of food pantries and meal sites throughout the City, delivering food to residents’ homes, supporting immigrant-serving organizations, and making sure Boston’s youth had access to the food they usually received at their schools.

“Ensuring access to nutritious food is a critical piece to our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a key part of Boston’s equitable response to this pandemic,” said Mayor Walsh. “Since the beginning of the public health emergency, we knew that reaching all Bostonians in need was vital to ensure everyone’s wellbeing, especially as we asked individuals to stay home and as more people faced financial challenges. Thank you to all of our non-profit partners, the Office of Food Access, the Age Strong Commission and the Boston Public Schools for your partnership in creating a network of food access for all Bostonians who need a helping hand. Together, we will continue to care for all of Boston’s residents.”

“We are very proud of what we achieved during this year, and we couldn’t have done it without the help of our partners. Our long-standing partnerships, as well the new partnerships we created will continue to help us increase food access for our residents, and contribute to a more equitable Boston,” said Catalina López-Ospina, Mayor’s Office of Food Access Director. “The Mayor’s Office of Food Access values the trust Boston residents placed in our team when reaching out to ask for help. We are aware that making a call or writing us an email is hard, but we are here to take care of you and your family during these challenging times.” 

SUPPORT FOR YOUTH AND OLDER ADULTS

Since March of 2020, the Office of Food Access, together with Boston Public Schools and the YMCA of Greater Boston distributed more than 5.6 million meals across 91 meal sites throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to youth and older adults. Additionally, Boston Public Schools (BPS) provided over 40,000 bags of free groceries at meal sites and delivered more than 1.2 million meals directly to families of students who regularly received door-to-door transportation.

"Just one year ago we closed our school doors and immediately rallied with our City partners to ensure our children and families did not miss a meal. At BPS, we are incredibly proud to be part of a citywide team that came together for our children and families so that they had one less thing to worry about. Food security is near and dear to my heart and I know personally the impact these critical partnerships have on families,” said BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius. “I am very thankful to Mayor Walsh and the Mayor’s Office of Food Access for their commitment to providing meals for our students and families, and I am so proud of BPS Food and Nutrition Services, and every team member, colleague and volunteer who made it possible for our students and families to conveniently access over 4.5 million free healthy meals throughout this challenging year.” 

“I have been out of work and my grandsons live with me. We pick up lunches from the school site every day but when the weekend comes we need additional food,” said a Boston resident. “The bags of groceries that you deliver are a godsend for us. I am so grateful for the fresh produce, the meats, the milk and eggs. They keep the kids happy and lessen the stress I am feeling. Thank you so much.”

The City of Boston’s Age Strong Commission worked with the Office of Food Access to ensure older adults had access to meals during the state’s “Safer At Home” Advisory. Between adult meal sites and the Meals on Wheels program, more than 2.5 million meals were distributed to Boston’s older adults. Boston’s Meals on Wheels partners include Ethos, Greater Boston Chinese Golden Age Center, Central Boston Elder Services, Boston Senior Home Care, Emily’s, City Fresh, 2 Life Communities, Hebrew Senior Life, and EMPath (Economic Mobility Pathways). Additionally, with support from the City of Boston, FEMA, and the Boston Resiliency Fund, About Fresh delivered 123,697 produce and grocery staples boxes, and the YMCA of Greater Boston delivered 207,413 grocery bags to older adults and youth homes. 

“The partnership the YMCA of Greater Boston shares with the City of Boston and the Boston Public Schools is incredible and has flourished during the past year. Together, we have delivered food to our most vulnerable children, families and seniors. It is a blessing to unite our organizational skills, infrastructures and ‘people power’ in the spirit of serving others,” said James O’S. Morton, Esq., President/CEO of the YMCA of Greater Boston. “We thank the City of Boston for allowing the YMCA of Greater Boston to participate in this important partnership, as we are universally committed to mitigating hunger for all Bostonians during this crisis and beyond.”

SUPPORT FOR GENERAL PUBLIC

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of Food Access also expanded other programs and initiatives to better serve the community in need. For Boston residents that cannot access federal benefits, Mayor Walsh announced in September that the Offices of Food Access and Immigrant Advancement partnered with Fair Foods to provide more than 1.5 million pounds of fresh bread, fruits, and vegetables for more than 5,300 Bostonian families. This was done in part through grant funding from the Boston Resiliency Fund. With the funding, Fair Foods expanded to 50 sites across the City of Boston. Fair Foods, through their network of non-profit partners, increased food access for immigrant communities, including those who do not qualify for state or federal assistance in the City of Boston.  

Additionally, the City’s Double Up Food Bucks program, which expanded in September, provided SNAP beneficiaries over $60,000 to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. To support local Boston farmers, the Office of Food Access, with financial support from the Boston Resiliency Fund and the collaboration of Mass Farmers Market, distributed $91,000 in coupons to 21 farmers’ markets during the summer. This assistance has been extended into the winter season, with five winter farmers' markets receiving a total of $25,000 to distribute in coupons to improve affordability and access, and to incentivize residents to purchase local produce.

“I have been having a very hard time financially: this pandemic has not been easy and I’m unemployed. Not having the extra stress of putting food on the table is amazing,” said a Boston resident. “Thank you all for the help you give to families-- a little goes a long way and it’s highly appreciated.”

At the beginning of the public health emergency, the City experienced a rapid increase in demand for food at all food pantries. In response, the Office of Food Access partnered with the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) to ensure food pantries were supplied and the changing needs were met. The Greater Boston Food Bank delivered 25 million pounds of food to partners in the City of Boston, the equivalent of over 21 million meals. 

“Our partnership with the City of Boston, and the more than 100 non-profit agencies in the city, has been critical in responding to the surge in food insecurity brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Catherine D’Amato, President and CEO, The Greater Boston Food Bank. “Now one year into this crisis, we reflect on the resiliency of Boston. The support from the City through funding, strategy and partnership has been instrumental in enabling GBFB to double its operations and distribute healthy and nutritious food to those in need in every corner of the city.”

For more information about food resources throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, visit here

ABOUT THE OFFICE OF FOOD ACCESS

The mission of the Mayor’s Office of Food Access is to improve equitable access to nutritious food with respect to affordability, physical accessibility, and cultural connectedness. In pursuit of this mission, OFA will foster a more food secure community with vibrant, inclusive food culture, reflective of the diverse residents of the City.