We are pleased to offer the December installment of our Spotlight series to highlight MPHA partners and friends from across the state who are changing lives and communities to improve health and advance health equity.
MPHA: Why was the Mattapan Food & Fitness Coalition established?
VM: MFFC was established as a community response to the many chronic diseases that plague our community that could be positively impacted by healthier diets and active lifestyles. We came together as residents and community partners who love Mattapan and want to see it transformed into a more health-promoting community. We were struck that Mattapan had the highest obesity rate of any Boston community and continues to have very high rates of diabetes, hypertension, stroke, and heart disease. We started by looking at healthy food access and how that could be done in a way that promoted the social cohesion of the neighborhood. This led us to create a farmers market as our first activity in 2006.
MPHA: What inspires you to volunteer for MFFC?
VM: I’ve lived in Mattapan for 25 years and raised my children here. I love Mattapan. There are so many positive attributes in our community that get lost in health and other statistics that focus on community deficits. It’s rewarding to bring forward the many positives in Mattapan – the cultural mix of families from the many parts of the Caribbean and Africa, the schools, churches and other institutions that have provided a backbone for the community for decades, having the beautiful Neponset River as a backdrop to our community, as well as our community gardens, parks and green spaces. I want everyone in Mattapan and beyond to see the beauty we already have around us and take that inspiration to make the community even better. On a personal note, I grew up in a small southern town where everyone in our racially segregated community volunteered constantly to improve our community and help out neighbors – without ever calling it “volunteering”. Some of the volunteering was local and some was tied into larger aims like ending racial desegregation and eradicating racism. I’m still working on those larger aims that have yet to be reached.
MPHA: What’s one goal/priority for MFFC in 2015?
VM: We always have multiple priorities, since by definition we work on both issues of food and fitness. For our food-related goal, we want to increase access to affordable food by connecting more residents that utilize SNAP benefits to our farmers market and farm stand in addition to promoting local gardening. On the fitness side, we are working to increase walking and biking. We have been advocating for the completion of the Neponset and Fairmount greenways as built environment changes that will provide safe and inviting spaces for walkers and bikers. While we support many different forms of physical activity, we especially promote biking as a fun activity for families and a green form of transportation. Our other major goal is strengthening community leadership, especially the leadership of youth and young adults.
MPHA: Why did you choose to partner with MPHA and Act FRESH ?
VM: MFFC is excited to partner with MPHA and Act FRESH. We know that our efforts at the local level have to be tied to larger statewide and national efforts to have the impacts that we desire. We have so much in common with community groups from Springfield to Lowell to Fall River – and lots to learn from them as well. MPHA and Act FRESH are providing all of us a vehicle for multiplying our strength.
MPHA: What’s something you’d like people who live in other parts of Boston and other parts of MA to know about Mattapan?
VM: The Native American Mattahunt Tribe inhabited Mattapan in the early 1600s. We understand that the name they gave to the Mattapan area means “a good place to sit”. We agree that Mattapan is a good place to live and visit. We encourage everyone to come visit us at any time.