West Side Center for Community Life (dba West Side Campaign Against Hunger)

Inflation, rising rents, and other factors have led to high rates of food insecurity in New York City, increasing demand on the emergency food system of food banks and food pantries.

Food banks are regional entities that source and aggregate food, while food pantries are community-based sites that provide people in need with free food. Food banks receive funding from the government to purchase food on behalf of food pantries. At West Side Campaign Against Hunger (WSCAH), demand for food has increased substantially. Many clients are also requesting more fresh produce and products from their countries of origin. In 2018, NYHealth awarded WSCAH a grant to launch a collective purchasing program among emergency food providers. That successful pilot program evolved into an alliance of eight of the largest emergency food providers in the City, called the Roundtable, working to increase food pantries’ ability to purchase healthy, fresh foods at affordable prices. In 2024, NYHealth awarded WSCAH a grant to enable more food pantries across New York City to procure competitively priced, fresh, healthy, culturally relevant foods for clients.

Under this grant, WSCAH will expand the availability of its collective purchasing program to more emergency food programs across New York City. It will identify and engage new food pantry participants, including smaller pantries. It will also develop an online ordering tool, provide technical assistance to additional pantries interested in making healthier purchases, and advocate for more direct funding that will provide food pantries more flexibility to purchase competitively priced healthy foods.

Good Food Buffalo Coalition (fiscal sponsor: Massachusetts Avenue Project)

Food systems planning is a collaborative process among farmers, retailers, consumers, nonprofits, health systems, and government to develop priorities and implement policies that shape how local or regional food systems operate.

Benefits of food planning include improving food procurement at public institutions, supporting local retail food businesses, and strengthening outreach and enrollment in benefits programs. NYHealth is supporting eight food planning groups in New York State that are developing tailored food system plans. Buffalo’s food planning group, the Good Food Buffalo Coalition, has chosen the adoption of the Good Food Purchasing Program (GFFP) as its priority. GFPP guides public institutions to make purchases that align with values including increased nutritional quality. GFPP also creates opportunities for small farms and suppliers who traditionally have had less capacity to compete for institutional contracts. In 2022, NYHealth awarded the Good Food Buffalo Coalition a grant to assess the readiness of local farmers for GFPP, publish a resource directory for farmers of color, and work with community members to develop a GFPP racial justice action plan. The Coalition also partnered with Buffalo Public Schools to complete a GFPP baseline assessment to understand how schools performed. With the support of the Good Food Buffalo Coalition, Buffalo Public Schools is now poised to implement GFPP. In 2024, NYHealth awarded the Good Food Buffalo Coalition a grant to implement a local food system plan to harness the collective purchasing power of schools to improve meal quality, lower costs, and support local agriculture.

Under this grant, the Good Food Buffalo Coalition will help secure Buffalo Public Schools’ implementation of GFPP. With the baseline assessment complete, it will work with district decision-makers to identify key opportunities to shift purchasing in line with GFPP. The Coalition will also partner with Buffalo Public Schools’ Office of Nutrition Services to maximize the potential of the district’s new centralized kitchen to prepare scratch-cooked, fresh meals for the district’s 30,000 students.. The Good Food Buffalo Coalition will also continue to strengthen its membership and to educate local and State policymakers about GFPP.

The Correctional Association of New York

In New York, more than 31,000 people are incarcerated in the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision’s (DOCCS) 44 prisons; more than half of them are Black or Hispanic.

Incarceration contributes to poor health outcomes and racial health disparities; life expectancy decreases by up to two years for every year spent in prison. Diet plays a role in this drop in life expectancy, as incarcerated people lack meaningful access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food. Fewer hot meals, smaller portions, lower-quality protein, lack of fruits and vegetables, and more ultra-processed foods have become the norm across prisons. The Correctional Association of New York (CANY) conducted a survey on the quality and accessibility of food in DOCCS prisons, revealing that individuals avoid eating meals provided in prison mess halls because of poor quality and a lack of healthy options; they preferred to eat food either purchased from the commissary or received in packages sent from home; and they would like more fresh fruits and vegetables to be made available. In 2023, NYHealth awarded CANY a planning grant to research the legal, regulatory, and procurement landscape governing food in New York’s prisons. CANY’s research findings highlighted system-level barriers to change, including centralized meal production and decision-making. In 2024, NYHealth awarded CANY a grant to recommend changes to improve the healthfulness of food available in prison commissaries. 

Under this grant, CANY will work with the Office of the State Comptroller and the Attorney General to examine existing contracts and identify possible changes to encourage healthier purchases and offerings. It will also work with the New York State Department of Health to assess whether healthier food standards for commissaries are feasible in New York. CANY will review how the recently issued executive order encouraging State agencies to purchase 30% of foods from New York producers could change purchasing for commissaries. CANY will also continue to track and publish data about people’s experiences with prison food, food-related programming, health care access and availability, and progress in commissary offerings.

 

Hudson Valley National Center for Veteran Reintegration

New York State is home to nearly 600,000 military veterans and welcomes an additional 4,000 each year who are transitioning from active duty into civilian life.

For new veterans, the transition from military service to civilian life can be an extra challenge, as they may also face relocation and a perceived loss of purpose. Despite challenges, veterans often do not ask for help until a crisis and may be reluctant to speak with someone they believe would not understand their circumstances; they can feel more comfortable opening up to a fellow veteran. That dynamic makes peer-to-peer programs an effective approach; peers are equipped to offer practical skills and information, as well as shared experience, social connection, and hope. In New York State, the most widespread peer mentor program for veterans is the State’s flagship Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Program; it reduces isolation, increases social connectivity, and connects veterans with community-based resources. In 2022, the State roughly tripled the overall program budget and paved the way for the program to expand statewide. In 2024, NYHealth awarded the Hudson Valley National Center for Veteran Reintegration (CVR) a grant to maximize the impact of the State’s investment, expand high-quality veterans’ peer-to-peer services, and formalize a statewide peer mentor coalition to spread best practices and educate policymakers about ways to sustain and spread effective programs. NYHealth is also supporting a complementary initiative with Clear Path for Veterans.

Under this grant, CVR will formalize its “We Are Dwyer” coalition, comprising more than 100 peer mentor programs, providers, and other stakeholders. It will host coalition meetings to identify regional goals and define a shared advocacy agenda; leverage federal, State, and local funding opportunities; educate members about best practices for communicating with policymakers; and share tools and resources for peer mentors. CVR will partner with Clear Path to raise awareness about evaluation findings and technical assistance opportunities. It will also create an online directory for local Dwyer Program providers to access centralized information. CVR will develop a shared policy agenda and action plan based on input from members, veteran service organizations, and Clear Path’s evaluation. It will also partner with Clear Path to educate policymakers about ways to strengthen the program through future policy and regulatory changes.  

Clear Path for Veterans

New York State is home to nearly 600,000 military veterans and welcomes an additional 4,000 each year who are transitioning from active duty into civilian life.

For new veterans, the transition from military service to civilian life can be an extra challenge, as they may also face relocation and a perceived loss of purpose. Despite challenges, veterans often do not ask for help until a crisis and may be reluctant to speak with someone they believe would not understand their circumstances; they can feel more comfortable opening up to a fellow veteran. That dynamic makes peer-to-peer programs an effective approach; peers are equipped to offer practical skills and information, as well as shared experience, social connection, and hope. In New York State, the most widespread peer mentor program for veterans is the State’s flagship Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Program; it reduces isolation, increases social connectivity, and connects veterans with community-based resources. In 2022, the State roughly tripled the overall program budget and paved the way for the program to expand statewide. In 2024, NYHealth awarded Clear Path for Veterans a grant to maximize the impact of the State’s investment, expand high-quality veterans’ peer-to-peer services, and formalize a statewide peer mentor coalition to spread best practices and educate policymakers about ways to sustain and spread effective programs. NYHealth is also supporting a complementary initiative with the Hudson Valley National Center for Veteran Reintegration.

Under this grant, Clear Path will build on its expertise as one of the State’s top-performing providers of the Dwyer Program across seven Central New York counties. It will conduct outreach to engage veterans in its newly launched mobile peer mentor program, reaching 15 additional counties. Clear Path will also use its mobile van to reach veterans in a variety of community settings to connect them with peer support and resources. It will identify and partner with a New York State academic institution to further evaluate its peer mentor services, with a focus on identifying replicable program elements and tactics that other peer mentor programs can adopt. Clear Path will also partner with the “We Are Dwyer” coalition to compile and disseminate best practices and evaluation results with stakeholders. It will provide technical assistance and training to peer mentor providers who are interested in starting a new program or strengthening existing services, covering topics such as learning how to apply for State Dwyer funding; ways to standardize program elements and metrics; targeted outreach; and mentor/mentee recruitment and matching. 

Home HeadQuarters, Inc.

Buffalo suffers from the highest rates of childhood lead poisoning in New York State and the country, largely because more than 90% of the housing stock was built before lead-based paint was banned.

Childhood lead poisoning can cause irreversible damage, resulting in issues with learning, development, and cognition. Lead poisoning affects communities of color and immigrant communities disproportionately. Children in Buffalo’s low-income neighborhoods and communities of color are 12 times more likely to be diagnosed with elevated blood lead levels than children who live in the city’s predominantly white neighborhoods. Refugee families, who make up a growing proportion of Buffalo’s population, are at a heightened risk. They are more likely to live in Buffalo’s substandard housing with lead exposure because they face limited affordable housing options and are unfamiliar with health and housing codes. Furthermore, language and cultural barriers and difficulties navigating health systems complicate the ability to mitigate lead exposure for refugee families. In 2024, NYHealth awarded Home HeadQuarters (HHQ) a grant to address high rates of childhood lead poisoning in Buffalo through community education, lead testing, housing remediation, and improved clinical follow-up.

Under this grant, HHQ will lead the Buffalo and Erie County Lead Safe Task Force. In 2023, the task force adopted a strategic plan to coordinate and deploy complementary community engagement and education, health care, early intervention, and code enforcement strategies. The task force partnered with Jericho Road Community Health Center, which serves many pediatric patients diagnosed with elevated lead levels. HHQ will expand upon Jericho Road’s Community Health Worker (CHW) program to facilitate health and social services for refugee and immigrant children with elevated lead levels. The program will connect children who test positive to a dedicated CHW who will help families navigate resources. CHWs will conduct home visits, offer case management, distribute lead safety cleaning kits, and assist with interpretation at home visits from Erie County Department of Health (DOH) inspectors. CHWs will also educate property owners about the harmful effects of lead, connect them to mitigation training through the Erie County DOH, and provide guidance on financing for lead remediation services. In addition, HHQ will coordinate a campaign to push for stronger rental housing regulations and increased resources for lead hazard remediation.

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