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 provide 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. Chinatown Main Street (CMS) was founded in 1995 to help businesses in Chinatown.
In June 2020, Debbie Ho, CMS Executive Director, and Nancy Jamison, CEO of Fair Foods, discussed the project to alleviate Chinatown’s food insecurity problem which was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Boston Chinatown residents have been financially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as many businesses have closed or reduced their hours, and there is significant job loss. Since January 2020 and during the Lunar New Year Celebration, many restaurants reported event cancellations and reduced patronage. When Governor Baker ordered restaurants to only offer takeout and delivery, 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 record low of only 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 2020, members of the board visited Fair Foods in Dorchester to study food distribution logistics and processes. They then evaluated the potential venues in Chinatown that had large enough safe areas for truck parking, offloading and bagging products, queuing, and distribution. This was further complicated by the need 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. Much attention was paid to 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:
October 24, 2020
December 19, 2020
January 23 and January 30, 2021
February 13 and February 27, 2021
March 13 and March 27, 2021
April 10 and April 24, 2021
May 8 and May 22, 2021
June 5 and June 19, 2021
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