As the holidays approach, tables across the Commonwealth will overflow with celebratory meals—but far too many will lack healthy, fresh foods, as they do all year. At Partners HealthCare, we recognize the links between healthy food scarcity and poor health, and we have several initiatives underway to bring better food to our communities’ most challenged neighborhoods.
Allie Lang, RD, LDN, is at the center of those efforts. As Outpatient and Community Liaison Dietician at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital (BWFH), she is devoted to finding ways to connect people in underserved communities with both healthy foods and nutrition counseling. After conducting a needs assessment with the Community Health and Wellness team at BWFH, Lang began implementing partnerships with local organizations in communities—including Hyde Park, Roslindale, Mattapan, and Jamaica Plain—demonstrating the highest levels of food insecurity and accompanying levels of preventable chronic disease.
The idea, Lang says, is to put both the food and the nutrition health literacy so often out of reach for these individuals within reach. “It’s especially difficult in the winter months to access fresh foods when you lack the transportation and the budget to buy them,” she says. “Produce is more expensive, it’s too cold to walk to the store, and the holidays add financial pressure—so we bring healthy food to them.”
In Hyde Park, that help comes in the form of the Fresh Truck, a nonprofit mobile fruit and vegetable market, which parks in front of the YMCA every Thursday from 3-6 p.m. Lang works with community liaisons including Partners’ own BWFH Community Physicians in Hyde Park to identify people in need of nutrition counseling and food access, who receive $10 cards funded by BWFH to spend at the Fresh Truck. Lang adds advice to the food access, examining patients’ blood sugar readings, providing simple recipes, even showing them how to cut and prep less common fruits and vegetables.
A similar model is in place at Roslindale’s Washington Beech Apartments, where the Fresh Truck makes its rounds every Tuesday afternoon. Other times, Lang can be found at libraries, giving supermarket tours—anywhere she can connect with people in the community and share nutrition advice. An effort is currently underway at BWFH to track the impact of these outreach efforts by measuring their effects on the markers of chronic disease. But the value of the program, says Lang, extends far beyond what’s immediately measurable.
“It’s part of our responsibility to those served by our hospital to work to prevent the types of diseases we see in such high prevalence throughout our communities,” she says. “The people who come back every week and tell me how they’ve made my recipes and improved their diets—that’s what tells me I’m making a difference.”
Photo credit: Allie Lang