Chinatown Fair Foods Program
Chinatown Fair Food, a joint project of Chinatown Main Street (CMS) and Fair Foods, is scheduled to distribute groceries for $2 a bag twice a month during the winter.
Fair Foods was founded in 1988 to provided healthy produce to low-income families in the Boston area. Their unique $2 Bag Program makes a healthy diet of fresh fruits and vegetables affordable. For $2, each resident receives a grocery bag containing ten pounds of healthy produce such as potatoes, onions, carrots, and spring vegetables. Loaves of bread are included as well. CMS was founded in 1995 to help businesses in Chinatown.
In June 2020, Debbie Ho, Chinatown Main Street (CMS) Executive Director, and Nancy Jamison, CEO of Fair Foods, discussed the project to alleviate Chinatown’s food insecurity problem which was being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemics. Boston Chinatown has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemics. Many businesses have closed or reduced their hours, and there is significant job loss. Starting back at the end of January, even during the height of the traditional Chinese New Year celebration in February and early March, many restaurants reported event cancellations and many fewer customers. When Massachusetts Governor Baker ordered restaurants shut down except for takeout and delivery starting on March 17, restaurants with large dinner areas could not continue operation. As a result, they lost their perishable supplies. Only small restaurants, bakeries, and cafés could continue operating, but at a much reduced level. One small restaurant that closed reported that they had tried to stay open for takeout, but they had fewer than ten orders in two days. Other businesses, such as beauty parlors, had to close under the social distancing order. The pedestrian traffic trickled to a few hundred a day. During August and September 2019, it averaged about 17,000/day on weekdays and about 24,000/day on weekends.
The planning for the Chinatown Fair Foods events was challenging. In July, members of the board visited Fair Foods in Dorchester to study food distribution logistics and processes. They then evaluated the limited candidate venues in Chinatown that had large enough safe areas for truck parking, offloading and bagging products, queuing, and distribution. This was complicated by needing to reduce health risks by following government guidelines – requirements for signage, PPE, social distancing, crowd control, and contingency plans. Finally, in September, CMS was able to get approval from the City to hold the first outdoor event at the Phillips Square Park. CMS recruited and mobilized volunteers. In the initial event on October 24, 2020, over 480 bags of groceries were distributed.
Encouraged by the success of the first event, CMS continued to search for an indoor winter venue. CMS was grateful that St James the Greater Church Council stepped up to offer facilities. St. James is centrally located and has both indoor and outdoor areas for preparing bags for distribution. CMS carefully planned the event. Much attention was paid to the indoor logistics and processes in case of inclement weather, especially on the social distancing and disinfecting the portion of the church needed to bag the groceries. On a frigid day (December 19, 2020), CMS successfully conducted the second event with 215 bags given out.
CMS is scheduling the bi-weekly food distribution 3 months at a time, weather permitting, for 2021:
January 23 and January 30
February 13 and February 27
March 13 and March 27
CMS is sincerely thankful for the sponsors: CMS corporate partner Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Mayor's Office of Civic Engagement, Mayor's Office of Food Access, St. James the Greater Church, Boston Resiliency Fund Grant
And for the volunteers from Fair Foods, St James Church, General Electric, and Boston Latin School.
For more information on the food distribution and or to volunteer:
Contact: Debbie Ho at 617-350-6303; email