Of the many ways COVID-19 has impacted local communities, changes to the food landscape have been among the most significant. With families facing reduced incomes and food supply chains around the world continuing to be disrupted, finding affordable, nutritious food has become more difficult for many people.
The patient population at Massachusetts General Hospital‘s Revere HealthCare Center — which experienced high rates of food insecurity prior to the pandemic — was hit hard by COVID-19. In early 2020, staff say they saw an increased need for patient access to fresh fruits, vegetables and plant-based, shelf-stable foods.
The MGH Revere Food Pantry — which was started just months before the pandemic began — responded by rapidly increasing the number of patients they served each week.
Timing is Everything
The MGH Revere Food Pantry was established in November 2019, with just one refrigerator and a few shelves in the back of an office. Mike Lenson, program manager at the MGH Revere HealthCare Center, and Melanie Pearsall, RD, senior clinical nutritionist, worked together to provide healthy food and recipes to patients every Friday.
“The program started out with 10 to 20 food-insecure patients who also had high levels of chronic disease,” says Mike. “We really wanted to change their outcomes by providing healthy, plant-based food options. Our recipient roster quickly grew to 100 when the pandemic started, and we have a very long waitlist right now.”
Mike and Melanie have since adapted to serve the larger patient roster, even as COVID-19 restrictions remain in place. The food pantry was able to expand into space at the MGH Revere Youth Zone, and the cooking demonstrations Melanie once did for patients in person have moved to YouTube.
Easy, Healthy, Delicious!
“I try to create meals that people can easily make at home,” Melanie says of the videos. “The recipes aren’t complex — they’re just fruits, vegetables and flavor combinations people might not have tried before. All the food we provide is plant-based, and people love it.” A mom from the community agrees. “Getting food from the food pantry is the greatest gift I’ve ever received,” she says. “When I come home with the packages, my 4-year-old daughter runs over to see what fresh fruits and vegetables are inside — that’s the food she’s obsessed with now.”
“It’s been amazing to see how our team has realized our mission of addressing health and hunger simultaneously,” says Jacob Mirsky, MD, MA, DipABLM, Medical Director of the MGH Revere Food Pantry.
In keeping with its mission to serve as many patients and families as possible, the food pantry celebrated the partial opening of its new, more permanent location at 300 Ocean Ave. in Revere earlier this month. As staff continue to develop the space in the coming months, it will also become home to a teaching kitchen. “We hope this new space will help us tap into the Mass General community more,” Mike says. “We’d love to have staff do cooking demonstrations and engage with other departments.”
This story first appeared in Hotline, a publication for Mass General employees and staff.