Working to Improve Access to Affordable, Healthy Food

Tufts Health Plan Foundation

Tufts Health Plan and four other organizations recently received a $250,000 grant from the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General to distribute food to families in need. Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA), The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB), Good Measures and the Institute for Community Health (ICH) are part of this health care collaboration focused on addressing health equity.

Although good medical care contributes to overall health, there has been increasing recognition that improving health and achieving health equity will require broader approaches that address social, economic, and environmental factors. Most of what keeps people healthy are circumstances outside of medical care—insufficient or poor quality food, housing, utilities, employment and education.

According to GBFB, one in 10 people in Massachusetts struggles with food insecurity, meaning that they are without access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, healthy food. Children are hit especially hard. In Massachusetts, one in eight children is food insecure.

Last March, the partnership launched a monthly Mobile Market at the CHA Revere Care Center to distribute fresh fruit and vegetables to families living in Revere and the surrounding areas. The market provides 25-30 pounds of produce per household. Between March and July 2018, more than 18,000 pounds of produce was distributed to 424 CHA patients and another 292 community members. The grant award will support the market for the next three years and incorporate a research component supported by the Institute for Community Health.

In addition to the Mobile Market, the partnership will organize regular health fairs to provide health screenings, vaccinations, information on social services and assistance with enrollment in community programs, along with evaluating the impact of improving access to healthy produce on health and well-being.

CHA patient resource coordinators will also screen for food insecurity and other needs in order to connect people to resources in the community. For additional information, contact CHA’s Community Health Improvement Department at 617.806.8775.

Foundation supports community programs to expand older people’s access to fresh, healthy food

Making good food choices is important to maintain health, but some people are unable to make these choices. They live in communities—often rural, minority, or low-income communities—lacking access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk, and other foods that make up a full and healthy diet.

Tufts Health Plan Foundation promotes healthy living. We focus on older people in our work. We support initiatives that help communities become more vibrant and inclusive, and policies that improve individual health and wellness. Several recent community investments focus on expanding access to fresh, healthy, affordable food for older people—while also addressing social isolation and systemic barriers.

  • In Lowell, Foundation support expanded Mill City Grows’ mobile markets offer fresh, local foods, marketing incentives and a tailored product line. Mill City Grows leverages the state’s Healthy Incentives Program that matches Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program purchases.
  • In Springfield, Partners for Community Action added neighborhoods with large concentrations of older adults to the Go Fresh Mobile Markets schedule. The Go Fresh markets also participate in the Healthy Incentive Program.
  • In New Bedford, Coastline Elderly Services and the Community Cross Continuum Collaborative are working to strengthen community communications and collaboration to improve access to nutritious food for older people in the region.
  • In Rhode Island, the Local Initiative Support Corporation is tapping community farmers’ markets in several communities as part of a project bringing together older people and youth to create meals that serve as a cultural experience addressing social isolation and better nutrition.

Foundation investments also address systemic barriers that make it more difficult for older people to access the resources they need.

  • The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute is working to increase older people’s access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. In addition to addressing policy and system barriers that improperly bar eligible older people from receiving SNAP benefits, MLRI is working to maximize the value of benefits.
  • The Greater Boston Food Bank is working to create food security networks for older people. They build partnerships with local senior centers and other organizations to provide education and application assistance.

Tufts Health Plan Foundation collaborates with older people, civic leaders and nonprofit organizations to build and support communities in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and, starting in 2019, Connecticut, that work for people of all ages.