The Food, Fuel and Shelter Fund: A Discussion

May 8, 2024

Julie Smith-Bartoloni, Associate Vice President of Donor Services & Relations at The Boston Foundation, opened the morning forum with a quote from James Baldwin: “Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.” 

The Food, Fuel and Shelter Fund at the Boston Foundation supports organizations that provide direct cash assistance to those struggling to afford groceries, housing and heating during the cold winter months. The COVID pandemic only exacerbated these already prevalent issues in the Commonwealth, thus prompting the Foundation to commit to redoubling their previously established Food and Fuel Fund’s donor partnership. 

The discussion featured four leaders of organizations that directly provide resources for residents struggling to make ends meet. Luisa Peña Lyons, CEO & Founder of Bridge Forward Fund, Jennifer Johnson, Executive Director of Gaining Ground, Tre’Andre Carmel Valentine, Executive Director of Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, and Tanveer Malik, Executive Director of New Lynn Coalition were welcomed to the stage by Candace Burton, Program Officer at The Boston Foundation, to engage in a lively discussion about their efforts to meet the most vital needs in the Commonwealth. 

The panelists agreed that the pandemic unveiled the severe lack of resources across the state and influenced each of their approaches to their work. The pandemic also brought to light the effectiveness of direct assistance, such as granting immediate cash or delivering free groceries to families in need.




Welcome & Opening Remarks

Julie Smith-Bartoloni, Associate Vice President, Donor Services & Relations 


Panel Discussion & Audience Q&A

Luisa Peña Lyons, CEO & Founder, Bridge Forward Fund  

Jennifer Johnson, Executive Director, Gaining Ground 

Tre’Andre Carmel Valentine, Executive Director, Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition 

Tanveer Malik, Executive Director, New Lynn Coalition  

Candace Burton, Program Officer, The Boston Foundation (Moderator)



Johnson’s organization, Gaining Ground, operates a non-profit farm in Concord. Johnson stated how food is directly linked to health, and the inability to afford fresh produce leads to various health issues. “Calories are cheap,” Johnson said, “and nutrition is very expensive.” 

Gaining Ground attempts to remedy the issue of food instability by providing families and nonprofit partners with fresh produce, directly and through partner organizations. Johnson recalls that during the pandemic, food insecurity became more widely recognized as more people did not have enough to eat or know from where their next meal would come. But, while organizations and individuals are fighting for systemic changes that will alleviate these issues long-term, there is still an urgent need for the production and distribution of food to families who are currently struggling, which is where organizations like hers come in to assist. 

Malik’s organization, New Lynn Coalition, developed a grocery delivery program to alleviate the growing food insecurity during the pandemic. The Coalition delivers food to families in Lynn once a week. According to Malik, the program currently serves over 750 families and has about 500 households on the waitlist. Malik has observed that if even one delivery is missed due to any reason, the recipient is severely impacted. In many cases, the program determines whether someone can or cannot eat. 

Lyons founded the Bridge Forward Fund during the pandemic – a response to both need and the growing body of evidence showing the power of direct cash assistance as an alternative strategy for helping families meet their basic needs. Lyons sees Bridge Forward’s role as a responsive model to not only address inequities, but also provide a wide range of low-income and working families to manage emergencies without sacrificing their longer-term wellbeing. A fast delivery of funds allows people to immediately access what they urgently need. 

Valentine began Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition's direct cash assistance program when they saw the prevalent issues affecting trans communities increase during the pandemic. “The trans community [is] experiencing economic inequities, unemployment, housing insecurities, not being able to pay their bills, and it really stems from being forcibly disconnected from education, which leads to economic opportunities. A lot of our young folks are forced out of schools due to violence, due to discrimination, due to bullying, and our community members find more opportunities in the gig economy, like in the food industry or in the arts,” Valentine explained. During the pandemic, many of these industries were hit hard, and transgender individuals were left without jobs and in need of money. “What people don’t think about is that trans people, we have children, we have parents, and we have people that we care for,” Valentine continued, “so we really wanted to address some of these inequities that our community members were facing, and we know that sometimes people just need money, no questions, no judgments, and so we launched our program last year.” 

While systemic changes are essential for long-term solutions, the immediate response these organizations provide is crucial to ensure families have access to food, fuel and shelter. As we navigate the ongoing challenges resulting from the pandemic, the efforts of the featured speakers at this discussion serve as a testament to the collective commitment to building a more equitable Massachusetts.