Final Five-Year Report

Below is the Executive Summary of the Hunger-Free & Healthy Final Report.  Download a PDF version of the full report.  

Executive Summary

Hunger-Free & Healthy (HFH) is a project of the Worcester Food & Active Living Policy Council.  It is funded through the Health Care and Health Promotion Synergy Initiative of The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts.  It was planned in 2007, piloted in 2008 and has been in its implementation phase since 2009. Although grant funding was authorized in 2012 to continue the project’s path to sustainability and to support advocacy efforts, this paper serves as the final 5-year report with data and activities through December 2011.

The primary goals are to:

  1. Support and advocate for the increased availability of nutritious and locally grown foods in Worcester Public Schools (WPS).
  2. Improve access to healthy affordable foods in low-income and underserved communities.
  3. Increase opportunities for youth and adults to reconnect with their food through cooking and gardening.
  4. Increase knowledge and awareness of community food security, hunger and inequities in the food system, as well as strategies to solve problems locally.

Project components included improving school meals in Worcester Public Schools; increasing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) participation rate; establishing Farmers’ Markets in low-income areas of Worcester; increasing the number of school gardens in Worcester Public Schools; offering free nutrition-based cooking classes to low-income families and teens; building communication and collaboration among organizations and individuals involved in this work; and advocating for policies and systems change to improve food security while encouraging healthy eating.

With respect to school nutrition, progress includes:

  • Increasing the number of schools participating in the Universal Breakfast program, bringing the total to 15.
  • Increasing the number of schools participating in the Get Fresh, Get Local snack program, bringing the total participating schools from 4 to 10.
  • Modification of the WPS contract with Preferred Meals to require them to purchase locally when in season, provide fresh fruit and vegetables at least four days per week, and ensure that 90% of bread products are whole grain.
  • Diversification of procurement activities to incorporate more local vendors and more nutritious foods.
  • Successful advocacy to Garelick Farms to have them remove high fructose corn syrup from their milk line they deliver to schools.
  • Modified the Universal Breakfast meal to include a puffed brown rice cereal and 100% fruit and vegetable juice, significantly reducing the sugar content and increasing the nutritious value of the meal.

The SNAP Outreach component provided assistance at 38 sites in Worcester.  At the completion of this project, the SNAP Outreach coordinator had submitted 552 SNAP applications on behalf of clients. Of those whose outcomes were known, 63% of applications were approved.  Since its inception in 2009, this secured a very conservative estimate totaling $285,181 in benefits for eligible households, with benefits averaging $188 per month, and ranging from $0 to $720 per month per household.

Farmers’ markets opened in South Main in 2009 and Great Brook Valley in 2010. Revenues from both markets increased over the three-year period, 2009-2011 as seen in the following chart:

More importantly, both markets were able to accept payment using SNAP benefits, Women Infants and Children (WIC) coupons and Senior coupons, thereby furthering our reach to priority populations.

The Educational Gardens component began with the Worcester Educational Garden, located at the Fanning Building Adult Learning Center.  This garden was built in 2009 by the REC YouthGrow participants.  After seeing the excitement generated by the Worcester Educational Garden in 2009, HFH worked to incorporate more school gardens into its implementation process.  In 2010, HFH funded the Regional Environmental Council (REC) to establish a School Gardens program in order to support Worcester Public Schools that had established school gardens, as well as to assist schools that were interested in developing new school gardens. The REC provided technical assistance and physical support to construct 7 new school gardens in 2010 and 5 additional gardens in 2011, bringing the total number of gardens to 14 (13 schools and 1 community center) as summarized in the following table:

Spring 2011

Belmont Street Community School
Grafton Street School
Greendale Head Start
May Street School
Worcester Technical High School

Fall 2010

Mill Swan A & B Head Start
Quinsigamond Village Community Center

Spring 2010

Columbus Park Elementary School
Doherty Memorial High School
Jacob Hiatt Elementary School
South High School

2009 and earlier

Goddard School of Science & Technology
Sullivan Middle School
Worcester Educational Garden

School gardens have provided an important opportunity for urban youth to learn more about vegetables, see how they grow and enjoy the fruits of their labor.When describing the impact that the gardens have on students, the most common observation was that the hands-on and experiential learning about vegetables was completely new and quite powerful for many students. Students were engaged in the process and gained confidence through working in the gardens. Both students and teachers learned about vegetables and nutrition. Some teachers found ways to integrate the school garden into core curricula consistent with Massachusetts Frameworks. In order to promote the gardens’ sustainability, both participating schools and the REC will continue to develop curriculum integration in the future.

HFH partnered with Cooking Matters (formerly Operation Frontline), a nationally renowned nutrition-based cooking program that teaches low-income families, children and teens how to cook affordable, healthy meals, while also giving them the tools to navigate the complicated world of nutrition and food budgeting.  The Cooking Matters class series has graduated 161 adults and youth since 2008, maintaining an87% graduation rate.  For the first two years, classes were held exclusively at the Fanning Building kitchen. In order to expand the program’s reach in 2010, classes were expanded to other locations. Survey data show that by the end of the course, graduates reported that 90% improved their cooking skills; 73% are eating more vegetables; 62% are eating more fruits; 80% are eating more whole grains; 49% are eating more lean meats; and 47% are eating more low-fat or fat-free dairy.

Over the course of the project period, HFH has become increasingly active in the local, state and federal policy arena.  Working with partners across the state, members of HFH successfully advocated for the passage of major legislation in 2010 at the federal and state level.  In the state of MA, partners worked together to pass:

  • An Act to Establish a MA Food Policy Council
  • An Act Relative to School Nutrition
  • An Act to Improve Public Contracting with MA Farmers (included in the final signed version of the School Nutrition Bill).

At the federal level, HFH partners worked with many national partners as well as our local Congressman McGovern to support the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which was the formal name of the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization.

At the end of the 2010 MA legislative session, the Policy Working Group of HFH developed a policy priority platform that guided the advocacy work in 2011.  This can be

found in Appendix 2.  Towards the end of 2011, in collaboration with the Food SNAP Coalition, members of HFH also began intensive advocacy efforts to increase the state administrative funding for the SNAP Program at the MA Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA). Current staffing and administrative support at the MA DTA offices are insufficient to meet the increasing demand for benefits, resulting in decreased access to benefits. This advocacy will be ongoing throughout the state budgetary process in 2012. HFH members are proud to be at the forefront of this effort.

The HFH Project Manager and/or Project Directors participate in six coalitions dedicated to improving the health of the local Worcester community, as well as three statewide coalitions that focus on policy change.  Use of social media and other online communication tools have also been part of outreach strategies.  This includes a Facebook page, a Twitter account, an electronic newsletter, and a blog page.

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