People struggling without enough to eat are often left out of the process to build solutions to end hunger. Project Bread, the state’s leading anti-hunger organization has launched a department dedicated to changing that. Social justice advocate, Catalina López-Ospina, has been named the inaugural Vice President for the newly created Community Engagement Department. The department is uniquely dedicated to engaging individuals and families facing food insecurity in conversations and bringing their experience to shape the resources and policies that directly impact them.
López-Ospina brings more than a decade of experience addressing barriers to food access, especially among communities which face disproportionate levels of food insecurity. The Colombia native immigrated to the United States in 2007 after nearly 17 years of separation from her family. Having witnessed some of her own family members rely on nutrition assistance programs, like SNAP and WIC, and seeing others hesitate to enroll in these programs due to concerns about stigma associated with accepting help, López-Ospina knows firsthand the importance of talking to those experiencing challenges and understanding their needs. She is committed to developing pathways to empower people to help themselves in a way that is sensitive to their cultures, race/ethnicity, and traditions. For her, fighting food insecurity is personal.
“Growing up in Colombia, I always assumed people were rich in America, or the land of opportunities as we always called it,” says López-Ospina. “It wasn’t until soon after I arrived in Boston to continue my higher education in Science, that I realized how many people here struggle to meet basic needs. I am an example of that as I put my dream on hold to survive, working any jobs you can think of from nannying to waitressing, teaching and baking, to metal fabrication and more. Learning a new language, adapting to a new culture, overcoming racism, and dealing with extreme cold weather didn’t make things easier.” To keep her spirit high and find some joy, she sought out ways to give back, volunteering at the aquarium, community gardens, food pantries, and refugee camps. Thus, her career in public service was born.
López-Ospina worked at the Boston Public Health Commission’s Serving Our Selves Farm and Homeless Services Bureau to provide job training and health and human services to homeless populations. She moved into the anti-hunger space when she joined the Mayor’s Office of Food Initiatives as a program manager under the Walsh administration, which she rebranded as the Mayor’s Office of Food Access in 2016 when she became director, a position she proudly held through January 2022. During her tenure, she worked with community partners, including Project Bread, to increase awareness and participation in nutrition assistance programs like SNAP and the Summer Meal Program, implemented the State run program “Healthy Incentive Program” in Boston, launched the Boston Food Access Council on which Project Bread sits, and secured private funding to pilot two of the city's major food access programs, including a Boston version of Summer Eats, which provides free meals to anyone 18 and under during the summer. Most recently, she spent the past two years helping people in Boston who were struggling without enough to eat because of the pandemic.
“Catalina has consistently been a force for good in our community,” says Erin McAleer, CEO of Project Bread. “Her dedication to ending hunger through listening to and learning from those directly impacted by it has long inspired us. She builds authentic relationships with partners in the community –something Project Bread had the chance to experience first-hand when she was leading the Office of Food Access. We are so excited she has joined Project Bread to formalize and expand our community engagement, as we work to ensure everyone throughout the Commonwealth has reliable access to healthy food.”
The new Community Engagement Department will work cross functionally within every aspect of the organization so that Project Bread actively engages and prioritizes the voices of the communities served to develop programmatic and policy priorities and strategies to address food insecurity. While the work will be embedded across all departments, López-Ospina will lead the organization in developing the vision and strategy for implementation.
Project Bread has seen the pandemic lay bare disparities in food access. While the fragility of food security has been tested for many, Black and Latino/a households have been disproportionately impacted due to structural racism and discrimination. The latest data from early December 2021 shows that nearly 1 in 6 of all households in Massachusetts are currently food insecure, but that number is 1 in 3 for Black households and 1 in 4 for Latino/a households. With López-Ospina at its helm, the Community Engagement Department will seek to listen, learn, and ultimately act on impactful solutions to end hunger through both direct service and systems change solutions. López-Ospina will continue and expand work already in progress, including the Community Partnerships grant program to support local organizations doing hands-on work in specific regions across the Commonwealth.
“There is no other organization like Project Bread out there that is working to alleviate food insecurity by creating stable and sustainable pathways for people to independently put food on their own table,” says López-Ospina, who, as an eight-time participant in the nonprofit’s annual Walk for Hunger, quite literally walks her talk. “The work here goes beyond giving someone in need a bag of food. We are addressing root causes of hunger and working to expand access and normalize needing assistance. I cannot wait to work with the entire Project Bread team to empower community-driven, systemic solutions that I know have the power to solve hunger in our lifetime.”
People experiencing food insecurity should call into Project Bread’s toll-free FoodSource Hotline (1-800-645-8333), which provides confidential assistance to connect with food resources, including SNAP benefits, in 180 languages and for the hearing impaired. For more information, visit: www.projectbread.org/get-help.
About Project Bread
Project Bread, the leading statewide anti-hunger nonprofit, connects people and communities in Massachusetts to reliable sources of food, while advocating for policies that make food more accessible—so that no one goes hungry. For more information, visit: www.projectbread.org.