By Dahlia Snaiderman
District 1 Boston City Councillor Lydia Edwards was the recipient of free school lunches as a kid, so making sure that her district stays well-fed is high on her long list of priorities.
She’s especially concerned about the impact of gentrification on East Boston. It’s no coincidence that after decades of being a neighborhood with areas classified as food deserts, now is the time that a new, fancy grocery store is coming to the waterfront as Edwards works on initiatives like the East Boston Community Soup Kitchen and the Free Lunches Program within Boston Public Schools. She’s said she’s trying to mitigate the damage that’s already been done to the low-income community of East Boston.
Gabrielle Witham and Maria Infante both work in East Boston, coordinating programs like the East Boston Farmers Market and the Project Bread Walk for Hunger, respectively. Witham is the program coordinator of community initiatives at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, and Infante is the Director of Community Outreach at Project Bread, a Massachusetts-wide organization.
Both live and work in the neighborhood so they see the unique challenges it faces. Witham and Infante agree on most things within their field, such as the basic idea that everyone deserves healthy food to help them thrive and be able to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. But they have different approaches to dealing with one very East Boston-specific issue.
As of 2010, more than 50 percent of people in East Boston are Latinx, many of whom are not yet citizens. Because of the recent climate of the Trump administration, and its increased rate of deportations, many East Boston residents have expressed hesitation about applying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, for fear of putting themselves on a government list.
Witham said she’d never push someone to register for SNAP who was nervous to do so because she can’t be sure about what could happen from them being on a registration list. However, Infante indicated that since no one has been targeted due to SNAP benefit registration before, people should still do what they can do feed their families. She encouraged individuals to at least apply for SNAP on behalf of any children that are American-born.
Witham’s organization is hyperlocal, so she sees the day-to-day effects that food insecurity has had on East Boston. Infante’s organization is larger, dealing with all of Massachusetts, so her perspective on this issue reflects realities in all of Boston and beyond. The many similarities and few differences in their approaches can be easily noted in the videos below.