Of the many ways COVID-19 has impacted local communities, changes to the food landscape have been among the most significant. With families facing reduced incomes and food supply chains around the world continuing to be disrupted, finding affordable, nutritious food has become more difficult for many people.

The patient population at the MGH Revere HealthCare Center – which experienced high rates of food insecurity prior to the pandemic – was hit hard by COVID-19. In early 2020, staff say they saw an increased need for patients to have access to fresh fruits, vegetables and plant-based, shelf-stable foods. The MGH Revere Food Pantry responded to this need, increasing the number of patients they served each week.

The program was established in November 2019, only months before the pandemic began. With only a refrigerator and a few shelves in the back of an office, Mike Lenson, program manager at the Revere HealthCare Center, and Melanie Pearsall, RD, senior clinical nutritionist, worked together to provide healthy food and recipes to patients every Friday.

Juan Velez Preciado, food pantry assistant, in the pantry’s new space
Juan Velez Preciado, food pantry assistant, in the pantry’s new space

“The program started out with 10 to 20 food-insecure patients who also had high levels of chronic disease,” says Lenson. “We really wanted to change their outcomes by providing healthy, plant-based food options. Our recipient roster quickly grew to 100 when the pandemic started, and we have a very long waitlist right now.”

Lenson and Pearsall have since adapted to serve the larger patient roster, even as COVID-19 restrictions remain in place. The food pantry was able to expand into space at the MGH Revere Youth Zone, and the cooking demonstrations Pearsall once did for patients in person have moved to YouTube.

“I try to create meals that people can easily make at home,” Pearsall says of the videos. “The recipes aren’t complex – they’re just fruits, vegetables and flavor combinations people might not have tried before. All the food we provide is plant-based, and people love it.”

In keeping with its mission to serve as many patients and families as possible, the food pantry celebrated the partial opening of its new, more permanent location at 300 Ocean Ave. in Revere earlier this month. As staff continue to develop the space in the coming months, it will also become home to a teaching kitchen.

“We hope this new space will help us tap into the MGH community more,” Lenson says. “We’d love to have staff do cooking demonstrations and engage with other departments.”