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Aug 15
City and Community Health Centers Increase Food Access for Residents

​The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) announced today that four community health centers have increased food access through Boston REACH:PHH (Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health: Partners in Health & Housing), a four-year initiative that works to reduce racial and ethnic differences in health among public housing residents. ​

The announcement was made during National Health Center Week, which runs from August 13 to 19 of this year and celebrates health centers as the key to healthier communities. Increasing food access is a priority for health centers, which provide vital health services and promote health and wellness within their communities.

The work to increase access to healthy foods builds on existing efforts and partnerships between BPHC, Boston Housing Authority (BHA), South End Community Health Center, Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center, Upham's Corner Health Center, and Whittier Street Health Center.

The four community health centers have incorporated Children's HealthWatch validated questions to their workflow to screen for food insecurity. The implementation of these questions has resulted in 28 percent of patients screened being referred to local food resources, more than 565 food insecurity screenings, and over 7,174 food transactions through nonprofit food vendors. 

"We are grateful to work with community health centers on addressing health inequities that result from issues like food insecurity which impact our most vulnerable populations," said BPHC Executive Director Monica Valdes Lupi, JD, MPH. "Increasing access to healthy food is a citywide priority that requires a comprehensive approach, and the community health centers have had measurable success at combatting food insecurity."

In addition to partnering with nonprofit food vendors Fresh Truck and Fair Foods to increase access to fresh, healthy and affordable food options, other efforts include:

  • Upham's Corner Health Center (UCHC) partnering with BPHC's Violence Intervention & Prevention (VIP) Neighborhood Coalitions to increase awareness about food resources through door knocking.

  • Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center (SJPHC) developing a "How we do it"video in collaboration with South Street Youth Center, which illustrates the challenges families face with accessing healthy and affordable food. They have conducted a number of Cooking Matter classes, and batch classes where families learn how to prepare healthy meals on a budget and leave with an entire week of ready to eat food.

  • Whittier Street Health Center (WSHC) hosting weekly coffee hours in BHA developments to inform residents about available food resources. Their initiative is informed by a youth advisory board consisting of youth from Whittier Street development across the street. 

  • South End Community Health Center (SECHC) providing bilingual recipes and other food resources at their weekly Fresh Truck site to encourage greater fruit and vegetable-based meals and snacks, paired with over 5,261 Fresh Truck coupon vouchers across 17 months.

"Community health centers continue to be the health system's problem-solvers, looking behind patients' medical charts to address the factors that influence their overall health and well-being," said James W. Hunt, Jr., President and CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers. "We are grateful to the Boston Public Health Commission and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for their support in tackling food insecurity, an issue that continues to impact many of Boston's diverse communities."    

"There are many non-medical conditions that impact our patients' ability to lead healthy lives, including a lack of affordable, nutritious food," said Karen Van Unen, COO of South End Community Health Center. "The Fresh Truck initiative provides our patients and their families  with critical access to healthy food choices right in their neighborhood." 

In January 2017, BPHC awarded $120,000 in grant funding to the four community health centers that have worked directly with nonprofits to increase food access by scaling up programs near public housing developments, reaching approximately 27,000 public housing residents​.

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