Ensuring Food for Everyone in Boston

September 14, 2020

A city of nearly 700,000 people (about 11 percent of whom are 65 or older), Boston, Massachusetts, joined the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities in 2014. Its age-friendly effort is led by two groups, and The city’sAge Strong Commission, through it’s Age-Friendly Boston leads Boston’s age-friendly effort.  

The Challenge 

“The most pressing concern for Boston has been ensuring adequate food access for our residents,” explained Emily Shea, Commissioner of Age Strong Boston, and Andrea Burns, Director of Age-Friendly Boston.   

 “This issue became particularly acute because a majority of older adults are not leaving their homes during this health crisis,” Shea and Burns note. The Age Strong Commission is expanding existing programs to plug any gaps arising in safety-net services for food.  

The Response 

The Age Strong Commission partnered with the city’s  Office of Food Access and the  Boston Planning & Development Agency to coordinate a city-wide response.  

Callers to the city’s 311 information line who mention food insecurity are directed to people who can arrange to have food from local pantries brought to the homes of older people, those living in quarantine and public school families in need. This is carried out by  Boston Police Department cadets,  Boston Centers for Youth & Families staff, and  The RIDE, a paratransit ride service operated by the  Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.  Meals on Wheels are also provided through a program run by partners like  Ethos and the  Greater Boston Chinese Golden Age Center. 

The food needs of people in large senior-housing buildings are sometimes more than food pantries can handle. So the city has partnered with the Greater Boston Food Bank and  

About Fresh  to bring additional food to these facilities. Residents in need can also consult the city’s  food support map to find the closest locations for assistance, such as food pantries, soup kitchens, and meal sites for youth.  More information, including special grocery store hours for older residents, can be found on the city’s  Food Resources During COVID-19  webpage.  

The Results, Thus Far 

“Some 2,500 individuals are receiving biweekly boxes of fresh produce that contain a variety of fruits and vegetables,” report Shea and Burns  In addition, the food bank provides pallets of food to the city. With the help of volunteers and trucks from the  Newmarket Business Association, we then pack and distribute 2,400 boxes of food a week to senior housing buildings throughout Boston.” 

“We’ve been able to have such a wide impact due to support from the Boston Resiliency Fund,” they add, which has so far awarded nine million dollars in grants to food access programs including Ethos, the Greater Boston Food Bank, Project Bread, and many small community-based organizations that are working to reach immigrant populations, people who have been laid off from jobs, families, seniors, and others.  

Response Partners 

  • Age Strong Commission 
  • Boston Housing Authority 
  • Boston Office of Food Access 
  • Boston Planning and Development Agency 
  • Boston Health and Human Services 
  • Boston Police Department 
  • Boston Centers for Youth & Families 
  • The RIDE 
  • Greater Boston Food Bank 
  • Fresh Truck 
  • YMCA 
  • Action for Boston Community Development Food Pantries 
  • Boston Resiliency Fund 
  • Meals on Wheels Ethos 
  • Chinese Golden Age Center 
  • Kitchens— including City Fresh Foods, Family Food and Empath 

 

Reporting, writing and editing by AARP (Shoshana Preuss, Melissa Stanton, Jay Walljasper, Mike Watson)