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Family Food Connections: Promoting Food Security for Families

Family Food Connections, a community food pantry, is a unique collaboration between Boston Children’s Hospital and the Boston Housing Authority. It is located within a Boston Housing Authority public housing development, the Mildred C. Hailey Apartments in Jamaica Plain. It is also conveniently located next to Boston Children’s at Martha Eliot. Open since January 2022, the site serves patient families, as well as residents of the housing development, and the surrounding neighborhood.

Families continue to struggle with consistent, reliable, access to food due to insufficient financial resources, exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of Boston Children’s strategies to address the urgent needs of families is by providing an accessible and convenient site to get food and have full choice in what they can take home. Read on for other ways the hospital is addressing immediate needs and identifying longer-term solutions.

After a year of planning, renovating, and development, the site was opened. Referrals prioritized patients from Children’s Hospital Primary Care Center, Martha Eliot, and the Division of Adolescent/Young Adult Medicine, as well as the Celiac Disease Program.

The pantry was named “Family Food Connections” to recognize the space as more than just a place to get food. The site builds upon the many connections that are made through food and bringing people and families together.

“Opening a Boston Children’s community program such as this was a long-time dream of many social workers and providers, and a topic of frequent discussion in the Office of Community Health,” says Stacy Walker, Director of Community Health Planning and Engagement in the Office of Community Health and project lead. “We have learned so much over the past year, including from our patients and community, and have adjusted plans along the way to best serve visitors, create a positive environment, and reduce the stigma of food insecurity.”

A number of Boston Children’s departments have been included in the planning and operations — the Office of Community Health, Food Services, Facilities, Office of the General Counsel, Department of Accountable Care and Clinical Integration, Children’s Hospital Primary Care Center, and the Celiac Disease Program.

An Advisory Board provides input and informs the team about community needs, how to communicate about the program, and the services provided. Members include residents of the Hailey Apartments, youth, patient families, staff from community-based organizations, and Boston Children’s current and former staff.

“We’re also thrilled to provide allergy-friendly and gluten-free foods,” says Vanessa Weisbrod, Director of Education and Community Engagement of the Celiac Disease Program, and planning team member. “Patients from our program can be referred to Family Food Connections, which is only one of two programs in Massachusetts that offer a regular supply of gluten-free foods for patients with celiac disease.”

For the latest information, visit the program’s webpage.

  • 4,500 unique families have visited.
  • The site has over 800 visits per week and more than 35,000 visits since it opened in January 2022. 
  • More than 60 percent of families who visit have children under the age of 17.
  • Between 150 and 250 families visit the site on the days that it is open. 
  • About 125,000 pounds of food per month is distributed. Almost 80,000 pounds are in fresh produce.