Getting fresh food from struggling quarantine families in dense urban areas has been a major challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in communities with large immigrant populations. East Boston is one of them, and the Institute of Contemporary Art, which has a satellite location there, is trying to help.
“East Boston was hit pretty hard,” Katie Field said. As director of health promotion and care programs at East Boston Health Center, she sees firsthand the effects every day.
The center is one of the largest community-based healthcare providers in the country with over 70,000 patients. He has an ambulance around the clock, runs a Suffolk Downs pass test, and also opens a test site in one of his buildings. Field said 90% of her patients are Hispanic and are really scared at the moment.
“Many of them have become unemployed, many are serving restaurant workers, and many of our families do not really have federal benefits,” she explained, because many are from families with mixed immigrant status.
Field said about 75 people call the health center every day looking for resources, especially food. She works with the Red Cross to distribute shelves that are resistant to shelves of dried and canned goods in home families with members who are COVID-19 positive, at risk or at risk because they have a chronic illness. However, the health center said it was crucial to provide residents with ingredients for a more well-rounded, nutritious diet, Field said.
“For someone who is quarantined and unable to leave their home, we really had this barrier to pair them with fresh food,” she recalled, “and in this IKA really helped us.”
The ICA is located right through the port of East Boston. Two years ago, she opened an outpost for contemporary art, known as Waterworld, near the health center. The seasonal space would be ready to open in May with a massive, newly introduced sculpture by artist Firelei Baez, but like all museums in Boston, the ICA has been temporarily closed because of the pandemic.
Instead, the Waterfall has become a temporary, fresh production hub for residents of East Boston.
“What is just incredible – and there is no news here – is everyone just stepping up,” ICA Director Jill Medwood said in an interview with Zoom. “All” that she mentioned includes her staff, establishments and museums.
Looking back when the coronavirus began to spread, Medvedow recalled that the museum’s director of public engagement Kelly Gifford and director of education Monica Garza had contacted six community organizations with which they had partnered in the past. East Boston Health Center is one of them. Gifford and Garza asked how ICA could help and learned about the urgent need for fresh food. Then they called the museum’s catering company, which lost all its planned work in March, April and May because of the pandemic. Holly Safford, president of the Catered affair, jumped at the chance to enter.
“We have always been a company that prides itself on giving back to the community,” she wrote in an email. “Our hospitality industry has been hit hard by this crisis. Many of the immigrant community, some of whom we assume are undocumented, work long and difficult hours often at low salaries for their efforts. “
Like food service providers nationwide, Safford’s company is struggling. She had to hire 350 staffers.
Without events, the Safford team is looking to create some home delivery options in the hope of generating revenue. Still, she eagerly offered to supply fresh food, along with the donation of space and labor, to assemble boxes for hungry residents of East Boston.
“The supply agency has plenty of space for commissioners, a fleet of refrigerated trucks, big hearts and empty hands,” said Safford, “and we feel great to have this opportunity to use our resources to do something for our neighbors in need.” .
To keep everyone safe, a skeleton crew of just five people does the job. Safford said the first delivery last Thursday “went like clockwork” and is even talking about finding additional funding to expand the plan.
Field described how the Safford team transported fresh food to the ICA waterfall, where it was unloaded in their truck. Then the goods were delivered immediately to families. Four hundred households will receive bags full of fruits, vegetables, eggs, milk and butter in the next month or so.
This is not the first time the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center – or the six other organizations partnering in the effort – have partnered with ICA. Since the waterfall’s debut in 2017, the museum has opened its space to the community for any event, including physical activity programs this winter with Field Health Center.
For Medvedow, it was important to find a way for the museum to support its neighbors, who are at the forefront of this devastating public health crisis.
“ICA, like any other cultural institution or not-for-profit organization, is facing the serious economic impact of this closure,” she said, “But it was something we felt we could do – be a resource for this community – a lot in the same ways we hope the waterfall is when it is full of art. “
However, Medvedow said the 400 boxes of fresh food felt like a drop in the bucket. Field definitely doesn’t see it that way.
“Sometimes people think that what they are contributing is really small,” she says, “but I think it seems overwhelming to people who are on the receiving end.”