Getting Food Right: Vela’s Strategy for a Healthier Massachusetts

We recently took a closer look at the Vela Foundation’s nutrition grantmakingand how this Boston-based funder prefers to support prevention strategies over existing treatment or advocacy efforts.

Related: What's Behind the Vela Foundation’s Nutrition Grantmaking?

Well now, Vela has stepped forward with a new set of grantees and committed another $110,530 to making Eastern Massachusetts a healthier place to live. With a focus that includes nutrition education, healthy cooking classes, and food assistance for the needy, Vela is a funder with an unusual niche—and in an area that's become much hotter in recent years. 

“Changing the habits of the individual’s family or community has a far-reaching impact. We are pleased to support nonprofits that work not only with individuals, but also focus on the bigger picture of improving health outcomes for whole communities. Food impacts everyone; public health programming should reflect that,” said Bernadette Rehnert, founding trustee of the Vela Foundation.

Here are three programmatic areas that Vela has been paying attention to lately.

Youth Exercise

In the most recent grant cycle, Vela awarded two youth exercise grants totaling $20,000 to MetroLacrosse and Community Rowing, Inc. Lacrosse and rowing are two sports that are pretty foreign to low-income kids, and these grants aim to introduce them to new sports that might spark an interest.

One key thing to note about these grants is that they also have a nutrition component. Community Rowing will be using some of the money to hire a registered dietitian to expand its nutrition education program. And MetroLacrosse’s grant money will go toward a week-long summer program for third to eighth graders, which will teach participants to make healthy recipes, in addition to learning about the sport.

Meal Assistance

Vela also recently awarded a $15,000 grant to the Women’s Lunch Place, a day shelter that provides meal assistance to Boston women who are homeless or living in poverty. In FY 2014, the shelter served 79,575 meals to hungry women—a record high.

A key thing to note about this grant is that the money isn’t just going to feed the women; there’s also an educational component. Women who come to the shelter also learn about healthy diets, budget shopping, and food preparation skills.

Urban Agriculture

But all this healthy food has to come from somewhere, so Vela also supports urban agriculture efforts. The foundation recently announced a $10,000 grant to Mill City Grows, which is an urban food production, access, and education organization.

Not surprisingly, this food grant has a heavy education focus as well. The funds will go toward a summer program that teaches hands-on gardening skills and nutrition to children living below the poverty line and who qualify for free or reduced lunch.

So as this grant cycle comes to a close, our takeaway is that food and nutrition education for all ages are of upmost importance to this locally-focused funder. Keep that in mind for the spring and fall 2015 grant cycles.

In addition to all this grantmaking, some of Vela’s trustees provide hands-on nutrition and gardening instruction to immigrants so that they can grow and prepare healthy foods on tight budgets. They’re also maintaining 61 gardening sites all throughout Boston.

To learn more about Vela’s Boston-area grantmaking check out IP’s Profile and the Apply section of Vela’s website.