For many communities and families, food serves as the basis for meaningful connection and conversation. Through the sharing of recipes, meals, and stories, we are able to express compassion, hospitality, and creativity, while building and strengthening relationships in the process. However, for many low-income families and individuals in Boston and beyond, food also serves as the basis for disparity and inequality.
Today in Massachusetts, 1 in 11 people struggle with food insecurity, meaning they have experienced a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life (USDA – Feeding America). Children remain at an even higher risk, with 1 in 9 affected by food and/or nutritional deficiencies statewide and 1 in 6 nationwide.
Given the critical developmental stages that children experience, the negative mental and physical health implications of food insecurity can be especially harmful and enduring. Several studies have linked prolonged food insecurity to a poorer overall physical quality of life, in which higher rates of hospitalization, anemia, stunted development, and more prevent children from fully engaging in daily activities (Feeding America – Map the Meal Gap). It also affects academic achievement, contributing to lower reading and mathematics test scores and hyperactivity, aggression, and/or anxiety in the classroom (Feeding America). Furthermore, children, families, and communities of color, who are disproportionately affected by poverty, experience rates of food insecurity that are much higher than the national average and white households, which ultimately contribute to significant racial wealth disparities (USDA).
While government assistance programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) have assisted countless families struggling to purchase and prepare healthy meals, 31% of residents across eastern MA who are food insecure remain ineligible for benefits under current program requirements (Greater Boston Food Bank). In addition, these benefits often run out before the end of the month, leaving parents to turn to emergency food-relief assistance (Greater Boston Food Bank). Considering the skyrocketing costs of housing and childcare in Boston, it is no surprise that families often have to sacrifice nutritious and consistent meals for other essentials (Project Bread).
In an effort to address these policy shortcomings and improve access to healthy and affordable food for our families and neighbors, we have compiled a list below with helpful community resources, tips, and information.
1) Join USES for our Cooking Matters Series!
Photo credit: www.cookingmatters.org
USES has an exciting new partnership with the organization Cooking Matters. Their mission is to help end childhood hunger by inspiring families to make healthy, affordable food choices. USES will be hosting Cooking Matters, a FREE six-week interactive course to teach participants how to shop for and cook healthy meals on a limited budget. Class will be held every Tuesday starting November 12th through December 17th, from 5:30 – 7:30pm. Dinner and childcare will be included, and participants will receive a free bag of groceries after each class to practice the recipes taught that day. Sign up using this link or contact Marielle Sheck.
2) SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
Apply for SNAP with USES!
SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps, supplements families food budget by providing a monthly benefit towards nutritious food. Although 700,000 individuals are SNAP eligible, only 452,000 in Massachusetts take advantage of this benefit. SNAP can make a substantial impact on a family’s budget; for example, an eligible family of 4 could receive a grant of up to $642 towards groceries! Want to find out more about SNAP, and determine your eligibility? Schedule an Income Supports screening at USES today! Click here for more information, or contact Marielle Sheck to make an appointment.
Healthy Incentives Program:
The Healthy Incentives Program recognizes the importance of eating fruits and vegetables by allowing SNAP beneficiaries to use their benefits to purchase fresh produce from a long list of farmer’s markets, farm stands, mobile markets, and farm share programs! For every dollar you spend at participating vendors and markets, SNAP will add that dollar back into your Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card up to a monthly limit dependent on household size. Check out these fliers (English & Spanish) for more information, and refer to the MassGrown Map below to identify authorized locations around Boston! Just make sure to select HIP under the nutrition programs drop down menu in the search bar.
This virtual map allows you to search for farm stands, markets, pick your own activities, agricultural fairs, dairy farms, and other spots for affordable, fresh, local produce! You can also refer to this complete list of farmer’s markets in Boston that accept SNAP dollars through the Healthy Incentives Program.
3) SNAP Nutrition Education Website
The Healthy Foods tab on this SNAP sponsored website provides individuals with low cost recipes, nutrition workshop opportunities, meal preparation tips, updates on nutrition facts labels, and more. They’ll give you the answers as to when certain fruits and vegetables are in season, how to preserve leftovers for longer, and how to use coupons to your advantage. This is a comprehensive and valuable collection of information that is relevant to anyone striving to shop smarter and eat healthier! Check out their website here.
4) Fair Foods Boston
Image via www.facebook.com/FairFoodsBoston
Fair Foods Boston is a non-profit dedicated to providing food at low to no cost. They have Two Dollar-A-Bag Sites located throughout the Boston metro region. Each bag contains ten to fifteen pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables. Check out their website or Facebook page for more information and important updates.