In a continuation of a nearly 30 year partnership, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation and the Dimock Center in Roxbury’s Egleston Square have teamed up to provide fresh, homemade meals for the Dimock Center’s Early Education families in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation has donated $52,000 to sponsor a month of freshly prepared meals available for pickup twice a week at the Dimock Center, which serves more than 19,000 people annually from Boston neighborhoods and communities across the state through its Health and Community Care, Behavioral Health, and Child and Family Services programs.
“When we look for people to do these partnerships with, we are usually very interested in working with someone we know,” said Karen Voci, president of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation. “We had a close relationship with Dimock—they really picked up the ball.”
The meals are being prepared by Fresh Food Generation and Commonwealth Kitchen. Voci said that Harvard Pilgrim has worked with Fresh Food Generation in the past. “We’ve been a real fan of theirs,” she said, and that’s why she suggested them to Dimock as the one to make the food. “They really bent over backwards and they moved quickly to get in this place,” Voci said.
Right now, the meals will be provided twice a week for one month, but “it’s becoming clear to us that the situation with the economy and the virus clearly has people at home,” Voci said, and “we’re going to make another month of funding available as they need it.” She said that “as long as people are confined and having difficulty getting out to get food,” this program should remain.
“They have turned this around so quickly that you’d think they were a tech company,” Voci said of the leadership at the Dimock Center.” People were getting food within seven days of coming up with a plan, she added.
Raquel Rosenblatt, Chief Development Officer at The Dimock Center, said that Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation has been “supporting our staff and supporting our organization in a really deep way.”
The virus is “really disproportionately touching people of color,” she said. “We know there’s a tremendous need. The health inequity is really quite significant.”
Since the need for these types of programs in Boston’s more vulnerable communities is so great, the Dimock Center and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation did not waste any time pulling it together.
Rosenblatt said the reason for getting this program in place so quickly was due in part to Dimock Center’s Vice President of Child and Family Services, Lynne Sheridan, and her ability to connect with families and know what their needs are.
“I discussed with my lead team what we were going to be doing with this food partnership,” Sheridan said, and “organized how we would get the information out to our families.”
Family Support Specialists for each Head Start early education family reached out to their families, and fliers were also created to let them know about the distribution and to ask families who were interested in receiving food to respond with how many members are in their family. That way, the Dimock Center could let the kitchen know how many meals to prepare.
“One package is for a family of three and would stretch out for two, maybe three days when coupled with the fresh produce,” Sheridan said. Families of five or more receive two packages and, and families of eight or more receive three packages.
The food distribution started on April 10, and has carried on twice a week since then.
“Each of the meals has a protein,” Sheridan said, which typically consists of a chicken dish (sometimes bean stew), a vegetable dish, and a starch, such as rice or potatoes. “It gets switched up,” Sheridan said, and sometimes includes things like a fresh salad, apples, oranges, and other nutritious foods. Dessert has even been included with some meals.
“The meals are mostly free of major allergens,” Sheridan said, including gluten, daiory, and nuts.
“It’s been a great experience with Fresh Food Generation,” Sheridan said. “Their mission is really clear about feeding this community.”
The team also had to come up with a strategy for how the meals would be distributed, in order to protect everyone from the virus. “Everyone is wearing masks, gloves, and face masks were donated,” Sheridan said. She said that there is even a portable sink for people to wash their hands.
Areas are taped off in six foot increments while people who have signed up wait in line for their food bags, and there is a completely separate drive up area where people can pop their trunks and have the food placed inside.
She said a plus has been teachers and leadership from the education program, as well as some Family Support Specialists, have been working the distributions, so families are able to connect with (from a safe distance) team members that they are used to seeing every day.
Sheridan said it’s been great to see the continuation of “our important relationships” and the impact they have on these families.
Around 750 total meals have been distributed so far, and a couple more weeks remain for this round of funding. “Harvard Pilgrim has been so incredibly thoughtful,” Sheridan added.
“Healthy food is a huge piece of people’s overall health and wellness,” Rosenblatt said. “The fact that we can have this meal distribution is a tremendous complement to the work Dimock is doing.”