Years ago, Dr. Gary Chapman penned a bestselling book, “The 5 Love Languages.” In it, he suggests that there are five main ways that people express love. But missing from the list is a 6th mode of expression that may not be as physically demonstrative but is equally as fulfilling: the gift of homemade food. In times of grief (the loss of a loved one), stress (an illness in the family), or even joy (the birth of a new baby), people deliver homemade food to their neighbors and friends as a gesture of care. It is a simple but significant way to convey thoughtfulness. No one understands this better than Community Servings.
Tucked into Jamaica Plain, Community Servings was founded in 1990 to serve HIV patients. It is an organization that provides homemade, medically tailored, nutritious meals to individuals and their families who are experiencing critical or chronic illness and nutrition insecurity. Its unique mission earned it a place on the list of 2023 Catholic Health Foundation grant recipients.
Over the years, Community Servings has grown into a true change agent. With its large staff and team of volunteers, it serves thousands of people who experience the dual challenges of poverty and serious illness (cancer, diabetes, cardiac issues, etc.) and provides over 15 different types of medically tailored diets, which address clients’ diagnosis, symptoms, allergies, and medical management.
The food is not only healthy but designed to please diverse palates and respect cultural preferences. “We want to ensure that our clients eat the food,” says Nate Ross, Senior Grants Manager. “If it doesn’t taste good, our clients won’t eat it.”
The specially designed meals have a significant and immediate effect on clients’ health while also helping them avoid an accelerated decline in health, keeping them out of emergency rooms and long-term care facilities, and lowering overall health care costs. These factors have helped develop a trusted partnership between the organization and health insurance companies.
In recent months, Community Servings has also branched out to offer related services such as an upcoming distribution center in Mansfield, a 12-week teaching/job training program that provides paid culinary training for individuals, and nutrition and education counseling. Classes, workshops, one-on-one phone conversations, newsletters, and nutrition assessments all amplify the positive impact of the services.
While providing medically tailored meals supports clients with food and sustenance, it also provides instrumental social support. Delivered alongside the meals is an abundance of trust, compassion, and connection – all of which are linked to increased happiness and greater overall positive well-being.
Just last year, Community Servings celebrated the production and delivery of its 11 millionth meal. And that, as they say, is the icing on the cake.
Janet is a 60-year-old client from Quincy who worked as a medical assistant for 34 years. Nearly four years ago, Janet was diagnosed with Polyarteritis Nadosa, a rare autoimmune disease that causes painful lesions all over her body. She has since been diagnosed with congestive heart failure and cancer.
Janet’s multiple illnesses impact her mobility and breathing. Every morning, she takes 18 medications. She drives to medical appointments, but other tasks that require a lot of walking, like shopping and cleaning, are challenging. As a result, Janet relies on smaller stores like CVS and 7-Eleven when she needs a few items because they are easier to navigate, even though they are often more expensive.
She stopped working in November 2020 and, since then, has struggled with loneliness. Several of Janet’s siblings have passed away, and she feels “isolated” on the South Shore. “For 34 years as a medical assistant, I cared for others. I was always someone who tried to serve others,” said Janet. “Now, to be unable to get up and do what I want to do, when I want to do it, is horrific.”
She hopes to move into a housing community with others and is on a 3-6 year wait list with the MA Housing Authority. In the meantime, Janet looks forward to weekly deliveries from one of Community Servings’ friendly drivers. “I look forward to Thursdays when I see Warren,” said Janet. “He’s so nice and friendly and brings my delivery right to my door. I’m the kind of person that needs to be around others, and I enjoy saying hello to him.”
Janet was referred to Community Servings in late 2022 by her nurse manager at MGH. She is currently on a “cardiac” diet. “When I got ill and found out I had to change how I eat, I got so overwhelmed. I had to limit fluids, sodium and avoid certain foods that could aggravate my stomach issues. I tried to shop and get foods I knew were good but was overwhelmed and couldn’t do it. Community Servings came into the picture and took a huge burden off my shoulders. My weight and blood pressure are always stable when I adhere to my diet. I am no longer in panic mode regarding food and feel better. It’s been a huge relief.”
Janet loves chicken, rice, and veggies but appreciates how meals from Community Servings have pushed her to try other foods like couscous and barley. “Their meals have opened me up to a whole new healthy way of eating. I’m trying foods I haven’t eaten before, and at the same time, they’ve taken an intimidating burden off my plate. Community Servings even sent me a package of diet-approved nonperishables that blew me away! The fact that other people were thinking ahead and wanted me to have food on hand in case you couldn’t get to me is amazing. They even sent recipes! I made the chicken, pasta, and veggie dish, which was delicious. It was so nice knowing that if something happened and they couldn’t reach me, I’d still be OK.”