Food Pantry and Teaching Kitchen

Boston Medical Center has a long-standing commitment to serving vulnerable populations, which includes treating both medical needs as well as underlying social determinants of health. Nutrition and access to food are particularly important components of caring for the patient as a whole, and the Food Pantry and Teaching Kitchen play a key role in carrying out this mission.

BMC created the Food Pantry in 2001, feeding approximately 7,500 patients and family members each month. It was the first hospital-based food pantry in the United States and has served as a national model for other hospitals. The pantry addresses nutrition-related illnesses by providing healthy foods that are often lacking in a family's diet due to cost and accessibility. Individuals with special nutritional needs are referred to the pantry by BMC providers who write prescriptions for supplemental foods that are both medically and culturally appropriate for all family members. "When a patient comes to our emergency department with stomach pain, one of the first questions we ask is 'when is the last time you ate?'" said Thea James, MD, vice president of mission and associate chief medical officer at BMC. "The Food Pantry helps fill the gap for those who would otherwise be unable to access affordable, nutritious food." The pantry relies totally on philanthropy, including food drives, to keep the shelves stocked.

In addition to obtaining healthy food from the pantry, patients also learn to cook nutritious meals with the help of the Teaching Kitchen. The bulk of the food used in the Teaching Kitchen comes directly from the Food Pantry, allowing patients to see and learn first-hand how to prepare meals with the food they have received in a manner that coincides with a healthy lifestyle. Simple, cost-effective recipes are demonstrated while disease and condition specific nutrition education is implemented for weight management, diabetics, cardiac rehab patients, cancer survivors, as well classes for pediatric patients and their families, among others. Participants can actually smell and taste the food while learning beneficial nutrition practices.

BMC’s Food Pantry and Teaching Kitchen is the proud recipient of the 2012 James W. Varnum National Quality Health Care Award, established by the Trustees of Dartmouth-Hitchcock to recognize an outstanding national leader in health care quality improvement initiatives.