Boston Medical Center Preventive Food Pantry

Location: Boston, MA
Coverage Area: Boston and surrounding communities.
Founded in: 2001

BOSTON MEDICAL CENTER PATIENTS can come to the preventative food pantry every two weeks to pick up 3-4 days of food each visit, as needed. Having a food pantry in the hospital takes the stigma away from being poor and hungry. The pantry has fresh fruits, veggies, (50% of the weight brought in is perishables), canned goods, milk, eggs, and other food items, a majority of which is provided by the Greater Boston Food Banks. Boston Medical Center also has an onsite rooftop farm. Sixty percent of vegetables harvested at BMC farm go to the food pantry. Pantry is open Mon-Fri 10a-4p. The pantry gives out 900 thanksgiving baskets each year, and they have helped start other food pantry programs in other hospitals.


To treat the health and development consequences of poor nutrition by supplying medically and culturally appropriate food in conjunction with nutritional education to BMC patients and their families.

Number of patients served

7,000-8,000/month. Last year served 84,787 patients and family members.

Arguments in favor of food pantry

People are often ashamed to visit their neighborhood food pantry, but if you give them a prescription and send them to a pantry in the hospital, it is more likely that they will go. “in hospital settings, if you want your patients to eat more nutritious food, the best thing is to start up your own food pantry.”

Cost of service

Program covered by philanthropy. 90% of food comes from Greater Boston Food Bank. Cost of running the farm, teaching kitchen, and food pantry is $450,000/year. This covers staffing and food costs. Patients never pay for the food they receive from the pantry. Hopes to have the program be reimbursable in the future.

Screening and eligibility

Patients are screened for social determinants of health at the BMC outpatient clinic. If screened positive for food insecurity (using the hunger vital sign screening questions), they are referred to the food pantry. Food items for patients are selected based on family size and dietary restrictions. Patients may keep coming after initial positive screening for food insecurity as long as they would like. Log of when patient picked up food is kept on the hospital EMR.

Greatest challenges overcome

Having enough space for the pantry: they didn’t take enough space at the beginning, and so had to expand later. In 2016 they were given a space with a walk in fridge/freezer. Another challenge was transportation: 15,000 lbs of food are transported weekly to BMC from the Greater Boston Food Bank – had a truck donated. 

Funding – “Finding money to fund this program has never been a problem, thanks to our Development team” 

“Now everybody is on board at the hospital. Everybody is aware of how to refer patients to the food pantry and what the criteria is.”

Greatest challenges yet to overcome

Hard to measure metrics – don’t know what patients are eating when not eating food from the pantry.

Perceptions as to what will be needed for food pantries to be paid for by third parties

Pressure from hospital food pantries, and proof that food is medicine:

“All hospitals with food pantries will have to come together and pressure the health insurance companies. They’ll have to prove to them that food is medicine. Just like they’re paying for your medication, they should be paying for food”