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Addressing food insecurity has long been a key priority in Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston’s (BGCB) mission to serve the communities of Boston and Chelsea. In 2019, BGCB served more than 310,000 healthy meals and snacks to members. The coronavirus pandemic required a quick transition to virtual programming this spring, and has also changed the way we have been providing healthy food to our members and their families during a time when many need it more than ever.

“As people have been struggling with the challenges that this pandemic has presented, we’ve identified food distribution as one of the most effective ways to provide relief and alleviate stress,” explained Senior Director of Healthy Lifestyles Grace Lichaa.

Since March, BGCB has been leveraging its expansive network of partners throughout the Greater Boston Area to distribute food to members and their families on a weekly basis. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve used our Club locations as hubs for healthy food distribution, provided more than $82,000 worth of grocery gift cards to members and their families, and delivered food to members who have been unable to visit these sites. In total, BGCB has provided 51,000 meals and 1,500 grocery gift cards.

Distributing and Delivering Fresh Produce Boxes

Fueled by the generosity of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation, BGCB has been distributing fresh produce boxes to members and families on a weekly basis since early May. All Clubs have served as distribution centers, with an average of 280 produce boxes distributed each week. In cases where Clubs knew that families were struggling with coronavirus infections, had limited access to transportation, or were unable to come into the Club during pickup times, Clubs have arranged for home deliveries. Partners T-Mobile and Costa Fruits & Produce have also helped make this approach possible.

“One of the programs we implement at the Charlestown Boys & Girls Club is Health360,” explained Charlestown Club’s Executive Director Derek Gallagher during a segment of NESN’s Dining Playbook. “We serve dinners and meals during the school year through City Fresh, and when we’re handing out food here we are trying to do the same exact thing: good, wholesome foods, healthy foods to ensure they are still eating well and being healthy.”

Sending Members Home from Summer Programs with Healthy Meals for their Families

On top of distributing fresh produce, Clubs served healthy breakfasts and lunches to all members attending summer programs, and also sent members home with breakfasts and lunches to share with their siblings on weekends.

Gerald and Darlene Jordan Club in Chelsea partnered with World Central Kitchen and Off Their Plate to distribute between 600 — 1,000 meals to members each week to bring home to their families.

“Many of the families in our community have counted on breakfasts and lunches served at schools and dinners served at our Club,” explained Lisa Gillis, who is the Director of Community Development and Administration at Gerald and Darlene Jordan Club. “With members and their families spending more time at home, the need to have food at the house has only increased. Being able to assist our families with getting some of those meals back has been a huge opportunity for our Club to provide valuable aid.”

And the impact of providing food relief goes beyond helping families put food on the table, as Kraft Family Executive Director Gina Centrella explains.

“Food relief goes so much deeper than meeting basic needs,” said Centrella. “Throughout this pandemic, the meals we’ve been preparing and distributing to our members and families have not only alleviated a major point of stress, but have also created opportunities for families to gather around the dinner table at the end of the day, enjoy each other’s company, and spend quality time together. This time is invaluable in the midst of the continual state of stress that the global health crisis has introduced.”

Continuing Healthy Development Programs Efforts in New and Creative Ways

“These initiatives reflect an adaptation of BGCB’s ongoing efforts to teach members how to make and model healthy choices,” continued Lichaa. “Many of our members have built a solid foundation of knowledge around how to lead a healthy life through years of participation in our Club programs, which include cooking classes, age-specific fitness programs, and social work resources. We’re grateful for the opportunity to continue assisting them and their families, especially in the midst of a global pandemic.”

BGCB’s ongoing efforts are not limited to the realm of food, either. Last year, 73% of members exercised for at least 60 minutes per day, three days per week. On top of that, 93% of Clubs teens indicated the ability to identify signs of an unhealthy relationship, and 97% of teen members in grade 10-12 report knowing how to keep themselves safe from sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies.

Since March, we have continued providing programs and resources across the broad spectrum of healthy development in many new and creative ways. Staff have created videos and hosted virtual Zoom workshops that share instructions for establishing a host of healthy habits, whether it be simple recipes, at-home workouts, or methods for practicing gratitude during stressful situations.

“As we reopen some of our Clubs, we are excited to find more creative and effective ways to continue our healthy development education,” said Lichaa.