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Ten groups will receive grants to advance health equity, access

More than $1 million in funding awarded

Avery Bleichfeld

Ten community organizations in Boston’s neighborhoods that experience the greatest health disparities will receive more than $1 million in grant funding from the Boston Public Health Commission to increase health care access in the communities that need it most.

The inaugural 2023-2025 recipients of the Community Health Equity Empowerment grant will work in mental health, food access, wrap-around health services and other areas to advance equity and address health care and related needs for residents in Dorchester, East Boston, Hyde Park, Roxbury and Mattapan, the commission said.

The awards range between $50,000 and $200,000.

The funding came as a result of lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the city worked to close gaps in vaccination rates, local organizations and coalitions were instrumental in bringing in community members, said Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, the city’s public health commissioner.

“It was really powerful to see how impactful community-led efforts can be when they are given resources to do that,” she said.

She said that after reviewing data from the Health of Boston report, the commission saw many inequities and decided to focus a similar intense effort on chronic diseases and pervasive issues that have been causing problems throughout Boston and particularly among people of color in certain Boston neighborhoods.

Representatives from these organizations and coalitions also have a better sense of what local residents need, said Ruth Rollins, founder and executive director of the We Are Better Together Warren Daniel Hairston Project, which works to provide trauma-informed behavioral health services for women and girls impacted by gun violence and incarceration.

“The people closest to the pain know what the community needs,” said Rollins, whose organization is receiving an award through the fund.

The voice of the community organically arises through the work of grassroots organizations, said Kevin Whalen, the co-director of the Center to Support Immigrant Organizing.

“Those kinds of organizations … don’t need universities or hospitals or big institutions to come in and figure out what the communities need and what should happen,” Whalen said.

His organization, one of the groups receiving funding through the grant, helps coordinate the Equity Now and Beyond Coalition, which is led by five grassroots groups dedicated to providing immigrants with wrap-around health services. 

Much of the work that the coalition does is centered on organizing communities around those “upstream issues,” Whalen said, including efforts around housing and food justice, and maintaining health care access through programs like MassHealth.

Grant recipients said it’s important to support smaller organizations to incorporate new ideas.

“If they would have just given the money to the people that already had well-honed programs and grant proposals and things like that, that really wouldn’t have got the level of innovation,” said Ed Gaskin, executive director of Greater Grove Hall Main Streets, which is receiving grant funding from the commission to start a food pantry dedicated to providing healthier stable alternatives than what is found in many food pantries.

The test pantry will serve between 25 and 50 people, all referred through the Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center.

Gaskin said there’s a correlation between food insecurity and chronic disease; however, food at some pantries may contain high amounts of salt, fat or sugar that can aggravate other health issues.

The grant program, first announced in July, uses funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to support community organizations that are essential to advancing health equity, the health commission said previously.

The five neighborhoods that showed the greatest health disparities were selected based on data from the city’s annual Health of Boston report.

The health commission had originally planned to offer $1 million to five organizations, but when it started considering the proposals that were submitted — and the addition of $200,000 from Mass General Brigham — it determined that it could stretch the money to 10 organizations.

“We wanted to give the funding to as many folks as possible,” Ojikutu said.

The recipients are Black Boston Health Coalition, DeeDee’s Cry, Equity Now and Beyond Coalition, Greater Grove Hall Main Streets, Haitian Mental Health Network, Link Health Boston, The Healthy Crane, The Fields Corner Crossroads, We Are Better Together Warren Daniel Hairston Project, and We Got Us Empowerment Project.

Boston Public Health Commission, Community Health Equity Empowerment grant, health care, health equity