Danny Coakley spent Friday morning going door-to-door delivering produce to elderly North End residents, greeting them with fresh apples, bananas, lettuce, and other goods. Recipients expressed deep gratitude at a time when reliable sources of produce are hard to find.
Coakley is part of a larger effort by North End Waterfront Health to combat food insecurity in Charlestown and the North End’s senior community. Demand for the program’s services has been increasing since the pandemic, according to the health center.
Through monthly produce distributions, a community fridge and rooftop garden in Charlestown, educational nutrition sessions, and gift card distributions, the food insecurity program helps the center’s patients get nutritious food in their cupboards.
“[Patients] always are very appreciative of our efforts and they always let us know that they would love us to come by next month,” said Coakley, NEW Health’s public affairs coordinator.
The food insecurity program was established in 2016. It expanded after the pandemic hit in 2020, causing the number of food insecure households in Massachusetts to double, according to a Globe report.
To improve the program, NEW Health began delivering produce directly to patients. Alongside Luisa Siniscalchi, NEW Health’s outreach manager and nutritionist, Coakley purchases bags of fruit and vegetables from Alba Produce and Haymarket in the North End, and leaves them at patients’ doorsteps. Bags have been distributed monthly in Charlestown since February and to the North End since May, NEW Health said.
Although the height of the pandemic has passed, Siniscalchi said, food insecurity remains a persistent problem in Charlestown and the North End. One in eight people in Greater Boston are food insecure, according to NEW Health, which is affiliated with Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston Medical Center.
“[Food insecurity] is continuing to worsen,” Siniscalchi said. “We’re having more and more people request our services and there’s just a lot of word of mouth that it’s so difficult to buy food.”
She said the program serves about 200 families a month, and has yet to turn away a food request. However, the program’s services are funded by donations, meaning the recent increase in demand has stretched resources thin.
“We really are relying on the generosity of others,” Siniscalchi said.
Outside the Charlestown NEW Health Center at 15 Tufts St., a community fridge is open to the public and frequently stocked with free produce from the center’s rooftop garden. Patients can also request ready-to-eat bags with goods stocked by NEW Health nutritionists. And the program offers gift cards for Stop & Shop, Shaw’s, and Star Market.
To maintain these services, NEW Health is accepting donations of whole fruits and vegetables, commercially packaged refrigerated foods like eggs, milk, and butter, and commercially packaged frozen foods like prepared, microwavable meals. People can also contribute monetary donations.