Food insecurity is an ongoing issue in Boston and across Massachusetts, particularly for families with children and minority groups. The problem is particularly acute in Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood.
One local grocery store chain is stepping up to the plate to make it easier for struggling students there to put food on the table.
Stop & Shop recently selected Mattahunt Elementary as their 17th school in Boston to get an in-school food pantry.
“We don’t want kids with rumbling stomachs,” said Mattahunt Elementary School Principal Walter Henderson. “Families reached out saying ‘we need help. We need resources.’”
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Henderson noticed food insecurity was being exacerbated by the pandemic, worsened with inflation and last week’s cut to SNAP benefits.
“Food scarcity is still a major issue in our community and definitely with our students,” added Henderson.
Then Stop & Shop came in and stocked the shelves with food and other hygiene products, including canned tuna, fruit, pasta, and deodorant. It's meant to help curb the hunger and the needs of the 483 students.
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“We want to make sure that they have something to eat for dinner, snacks over the weekend and so we’ve partnered with 170 schools so far to do that,” said Stop & Shop Community Relations Director Jennifer Barr.
Barr has led Stop & Shop’s food pantry program since 2019, which she said serves more than 3,000 students and families in Boston, targeting schools like Mattahunt where at least 90% of children qualify for free or discounted meals.
In a report released last year, the Greater Boston Food Bank identified the Hispanic and Black communities, as well as families with children, as the groups with the highest levels of food insecurity.
“You know that it’s more than just academics that we have young people that are going home and the only meal that they get is the meal that they get in school,” said Boston City Councilor and Education Committee Chair Julia Mejia.
Mejia believes food insecurity in Boston is a source of poor academic performance and behavioral issues in youth.
“There needs to be a full audit,” said Mejia. “[I] want to call a hearing on that and want to do an assessment of how many of our kids are sitting in our classrooms hungry.”
Stop & Shop is also giving the school $12,500 in gift cards to shop for culturally relevant foods families would prefer to eat.
The Mattahunt elementary families who need assistance can schedule a trip to the pantry with the school’s front office.
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