Updated Feb. 1
One in eight adults and one in five children are suffering from food insecurity in Massachusetts, according to the Greater Boston Food Bank. This problem was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the face of this public health issue, Stop & Shop and the Boston-based nonprofit About Fresh announced their new partnership to increase “access to fresh and healthy foods for people in need across New England,” according to a press release. Access is available through About Fresh’s “Fresh Connect” program, which allows participants to use prepaid Visa debit cards “prescribed” by healthcare providers to purchase healthy food like fruits and vegetables. After a successful pilot at the Grove Hall location, the program is available at over 100 Eastern Massachusetts Stop & Shop locations, with plans to expand to all locations by early spring.
According to a Stop & Shop spokesperson, both Martha’s Vineyard stores are participating in the program.
According to the press release, the prepaid debit cards are funded by healthcare organizations and are HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act)-compliant platforms. When food-insecure participants use these cards at checkout, the cost of produce will automatically be deducted from the total purchase price. The cards are “prescribed” by healthcare providers. The providers “collect baseline health indicators,” and set monthly card disbursements for participants.
90 West LLC Vice President Harry Shipps, who is working with the About Fresh team, told the Times that the program’s “enrollment partners” decide independently what health and “baseline indicators” qualify a patient to receive a card.
“The specific criteria each partner uses to enroll patients in Fresh Connect varies, but eligibility typically involves screening positive for food insecurity and having one or more diet-related illnesses,” Shipps said, listing diabetes and heart disease as examples.
Although the healthcare providers on the Island are not a part of the Fresh Connect program yet, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital communications specialist Marissa Lefebvre told the Times the hospital is working with Fresh Connect to implement the program locally. Mass General Brigham, which is the parent company of Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, is already a participant of the program. Island Health Care chief operating officer Lucy Hackney told the Times the care provider is learning more about Fresh Connect, and is “excited to be supporting the efforts to make the program available on the Island.”
To learn more about the About Fresh Fresh Connect program, visit aboutfresh.org/fresh-connect.
Updated with information from MVH. –Ed.