Major Grants and Partnerships

City Harvest | Healthy Neighborhoods

« Not all New York City neighborhoods are equal.
The city’s poorest neighborhoods also have the highest rates of hunger and diet-related diseases,
and are often places where it’s difficult to find healthy, affordable food. »

Jilly Stephens, CEO
City Harvest

City Harvest pioneered the “food rescue” model in 1982 – delivering surplus food from restaurants and other businesses to food pantries and soup kitchens throughout New York City. Thirty years later, City Harvest launched an ambitious new strategy, the Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative, to take a geographically targeted, integrated approach to focus on five high-need neighborhoods – one in each borough – and to meet a range of food needs, from emergency food to retail. While continuing to distribute food to some 600 pantries, shelters, senior centers and Head Start programs throughout the City, the concept behind the Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative was to go deep in a limited number of neighborhoods rather than wide.

In 2013, the Illumination Fund joined City Harvest to increase the scope and scale of the Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative.

Community Food Assessments

Before launching the Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative (HNI), City Harvest conducted “community food assessments” and designed a multicomponent strategy for each of the five targeted neighborhoods: Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn; Northwest Queens; Washington Heights/Inwood, Manhattan; the South Bronx; and the North Shore of Staten Island. The data show that in these neighborhoods, residents may be twice as likely to face hunger, poverty and diet-related illness as those in more affluent areas. Access to healthy, affordable food is often limited. Therefore, City Harvest designed Healthy Neighborhoods to focus both on immediate food needs as well as long-term solutions for food security in a local community.

The Healthy Neighborhoods Model

Targeted Outcome 1: Relief of food insecurity

Provide nutrient-dense food and fresh produce to food pantries and soup kitchens that lack the resources they need to serve the community; and operate Mobile Markets, which create farmers market-like settings where community members receive fresh produce for free and participate in cooking demonstrations to learn how to use the ingredients available that day;

Targeted Outcome 2: Positive changes to knowledge, awareness, and behavior related to shopping, cooking, and eating

Provide nutrition education programs to thousands of residents, ranging from one-time workshops to multi-week courses;

Targeted Outcome 3: Improved access to affordable, healthy food

Partner with supermarkets and corner stores across neighborhoods to provide training and materials to enhance sales of healthy foods;

Targeted Outcome 4: Increased community capacity

Convene residents, community partners and business owners as Community Action Networks to discuss ways to address the local food landscape.


The results have been impressive – both in scale and in impact. For example, from HNI’s start in 2012, the number of Mobile Market sites, Mobile Market days, and clients receiving fresh produce at the markets has tripled, and third-party evaluations have demonstrated significant changes among participants. City Harvest reports that although these results are very positive, lasting behavioral change is challenging when residents are on a very tight budget due to limited incomes. With the conclusion of the 5-year HNI plan, City Harvest embarked on a new strategic planning process, and in 2018 is rolling out enhancements and modifications designed to increase long-term impact. City Harvest is reimagining its healthy food strategy—a strategy that is now influencing the entire organization’s approach to improving access to healthy food and achieving food security.

« We’ve seen significant impact, and there are metrics attached to that, but it’s often not realistic to say that a single program “caused” a change in behavior or the food environment, nor certainly in health outcomes. We’re not always looking to attribute change to a particular program, but it’s important to accept contribution as a good impact.»

Jennifer McLean, COO
City Harvest

Top banner photo by Ben Hider.