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MMA Innovation Award winner, From The Beacon, February 2024
One-fifth of Lynn’s population struggles with food insecurity, so the city has partnered with area organizations to create a one-stop shop to provide residents with food, nutrition-based education and other services to help them improve their physical and mental health.
Launched in December 2022, the Phoenix Food Hub brings together services including a food pantry, nutrition counseling and cooking classes, and referrals to other social services and food benefit programs. The downtown hub resulted from a collaboration between the city and more than a dozen local organizations committed to addressing food-related needs and improving health outcomes in the community.
“The underlying philosophy is that food is medicine,” said Mayor Jared Nicholson. “That’s true for individuals, and it’s also true for the community as a whole. We’re looking to build networks to support the health of the entire community.”
A task force was formed involving the city and more than a dozen organizations to examine ways to address food insecurity. Meanwhile, one task force member, the nonprofit Greater Lynn Senior Services, was looking to repurpose 7,200 square feet of downtown space that had once housed the Senior Center. The idea for the food hub emerged from the city’s Public Health Department, officials said, but it became reality through partnerships with outside organizations.
In its first year, about 400 families visited the food hub each week, according to the city, and the facility had gotten about 16,000 visits as of this past fall. Outside agencies have made 445 referrals to the hub for people needing nutrition programs, 1,525 people have participated in the indoor farmers market, and 880 people have made 3,255 visits to pick up bags of groceries through the hub’s brown-bag distribution program. About 500 food pantry visitors have participated in the hub’s healthy cooking demonstrations.
The food hub’s additional programs include one that explores the connection between nutrition and mental health. The city is also distributing $125,000 in grants each year, for four years, to community groups pursuing innovative ideas to address food insecurity and promote healthy eating. Lynn officials said the grants reflect the city’s commitment to partnering with a wide range of groups to solve a common problem.
City officials said the food hub’s scope of services and operating costs are still evolving, but they were fortunate to have launched their efforts with a $2.8 million grant from MassGeneral Brigham and funding from the state and the federal American Rescue Plan Act, as well as financial support from numerous organizations, foundations and private donors.
Officials said the collaboration around the food hub has helped the city and outside organizations address a range of complex issues as a whole, and provided a more integrated set of services for Lynn’s most vulnerable residents — since food is usually just one of the challenges they face.
“So this is about meeting [residents] where they’re at,” Nicholson said, “instead of them having to chase down multiple organizations — creating that one-stop shop to address the clinical and social determinants of health.”
Lynn Public Health Coordinator Norris Guscott, who spearheaded the task force, thinks more communities around the state will establish food policy councils in the next five to seven years. He pointed to the range of services offered, and the mayor’s empowerment of the food policy council and its organizations to take action, as keys to the program’s success and its popularity.
“I like all of it,” Guscott said. “It’s all unique, and the best part is being able to report the numbers to the mayor, and the impact that we’re having.”
For more information about the Phoenix Food Hub, contact Public Health Coordinator Norris Guscott at email@example.com or Valerie Parker Callahan, director of planning and development at Greater Lynn Senior Services, at VParkerCallahan@glss.net.