When Community Servings was founded in 1990, a small group of volunteers delivered 30 hot dinners to nourish people struggling with wasting syndrome associated with HIV/AIDS. Today, more than three decades later, the Jamaica Plain nonprofit organization has cooked up its 10 millionth scratch-made meal as its mission has expanded to serve individuals with a wide range of illnesses.
“This milestone is a matter of pride for the 70-plus employees and dozens of daily volunteers whose collective mission is to prepare medically tailored meals in the kitchen of Community Servings and deliver them to people in need across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” said David B. Waters, CEO of Community Servings. “We can count our progress by the millions now, but what we do really comes down to two words: food heals.”
To celebrate the milestone meal, a result of rapid growth over the last two years, Community Servings welcomed elected officials and community leaders, including U.S. Representative James P. McGovern (MA-2nd), a leading voice on hunger policy and longtime “food as medicine” champion, to its 31,000-square-foot “Food Campus” in Jamaica Plain on Sept. 13. The special guests met with Community Servings’ leadership team and kitchen staff to learn more about the agency’s meal preparation and related work in nutrition education, food service training, and medically tailored meal research.
“From the moment I learned about the incredible work going on at Community Servings, I knew this was an organization that not only changes lives, but also expands the horizon of what is possible in this country when we talk about ending hunger. The meals delivered by Community Servings make a huge difference for so many chronically and critically ill people in Massachusetts,” said McGovern. “Like Community Servings, I believe that food is medicine, and I have called upon President Biden to host a White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, Hunger, and Health to examine how we can expand this model, save lives, improve health outcomes, and reduce health care costs.”
Community Servings provides 15 medical diets developed by registered dietitian nutritionists tailored to each client’s nutritional and medical needs. While its roots were in the HIV/AIDS crisis, the agency has expanded the categories of clients it serves to include those living with cancer, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, diabetes, and kidney disease, and those with a combination of diagnoses. The cost of the home-delivered meals is covered by philanthropy or, in some cases, health insurance.
The 10 millionth meal, like all others, was prepared from scratch using whole, fresh ingredients by kitchen staff and volunteers, some of whom are graduates of Community Servings’ Teaching Kitchen, a food service job-training program for individuals facing barriers to full-time employment.
“The goal of our kitchen team – the same since we started – is to motivate our clients, many of whom are too sick to shop and cook for themselves, to eat,” said Kevin Conner, Community Servings’ chief operating officer and former executive chef. “We set the table with medically tailored diet plans and then prepare appetizing, culturally appropriate foods for neighbors in need of nutritious meals.”
Each client receives a weekly meal delivery containing five days’ worth of lunch, dinner, and snacks. Their package typically includes five entrees, five salads, four soups or stews, two yogurts, five desserts, two pieces of fresh fruit, and a quart of milk. In addition, some client deliveries are augmented to include additional meals for children and caregivers.
“The meals from Community Servings make me feel supported and provide a sense of certainty with everything I have going on in my life,” said Cathy, a Community Servings diagnosed with ovarian cancer. “When I found out I had to change my diet, I was afraid my daughter and I might not be able to get meals anymore, but they made me exactly what I needed. I credit their meals with helping me to keep fighting for myself and my daughter.”
Community Servings experienced a tremendous increase in demand for its meals in recent years, partly as this health care intervention has been more broadly recognized in the health care system as an effective way – as demonstrated in rigorous research studies – to help improve patient outcomes and lower medical costs. During the coronavirus pandemic, Community Servings launched a targeted meal program to aid individuals diagnosed with or at risk for COVID-19. Since March 2020, it has increased production of MTMs by 70% to over 17,000 meals weekly that are delivered to 1,700 clients, 92% of whom are experiencing poverty and 63% of whom identify as Black or Latinx.
Founded in 1990, Community Servings’ mission is to actively engage the community to provide medically tailored, nutritious, scratch-made meals to chronically and critically ill individuals and their families across Massachusetts. To help clients maintain their health and dignity, Community Servings provides culturally appropriate meals, nutrition education and counseling, and other community programs. With support from thousands of volunteers, the kitchen team prepares over 875,000 medically tailored meals home-delivered to 3,800 clients annually. For more information, visit www.servings.org.