Who We Are
Transforming Worcester into a
In March 2020, a group of city and community leaders gathered at the Boys and Girls club to discuss the emerging COVID-19 pandemic. In assessing community needs, various groups and subcommittees were formed, including the Worcester Together Food Group chaired by Gina Plata-Nino of Central West Justice Center with the assistance of Casey Burns of Coalition of a Healthy Greater Worcester.
The group met biweekly to meet the gaps in service created by a non-responsive federal and state government, and created various innovative projects and initiatives to tackle food insecurity including:
The Worcester Together Food Group realized that existing food insecurity was exacerbated by the pandemic. According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 Community Impact Survey (CCIS) (467 Worcester respondents) and UMass Chan Medical School/City of Worcester’s Greater Worcester COVID-19 Survey (2,156 Worcester respondents), 1 in 5 respondents reported being food insecure.
The group also recognized that there was a direct correlation between race, age, health disparities, and food insecurity. The surveys indicated that Latinx, African American/Black and Asian respondents had higher rates of insecurity as well as non-English speakers and respondents under the age of 50.
The Worcester Together Food Group saw the need for a convener of food security issues and proposed a Food Security Task Force to the city leadership. In 2021, the Mayor’s Office approved the task force and the Food Help Worcester initiative was born.
The Worcester Together Food Security group is comprised of representatives from the Worcester County Food Bank, Coalition for a Healthy Greater Worcester, Worcester School District, Worcester Housing Authority, Hanover Insurance, Fallon Healthcare, Harvard Pilgrim, MissionE4, Pernet Family Health Service, Catholic Charities, Friendly House, Worcester Department of Public Health, Urban Action Institute of Worcester State, Worcester Family Resource Center, Buen Samaritano, Worcester Community Action Council, UMass Worcester Prevention Research Center at UMass Chan Medical School, UMass Memorial, Regional Environmental Council, and community members.
The City of Worcester Task Force on Food Security will create a food-secure community with vibrant and inclusive food cultures that reflect the diversity of our residents.
The City of Worcester Task Force on Food Security is a non-partisan entity addressing the root causes of food insecurity and seeking improvements to the accessibility and affordability of nutritious food in Worcester by:
We will operate through a food justice framework and across four thematic priorities – health equity, socio-economic justice, racial equity, and environmental justice.
The Task Force will:
She became part of this work after living in Southeast Asia and noticing inequities and lack of safety net resources. She co-founded an organization Oon Jai in Southeast Asia to create sustainable resources to address food insecurity through health, education, and farming. When she came back to the USA she had the great opportunity to manage the inaugural food security project, a partnership of the Worcester County Food Bank. She chairs various anti-hunger coalitions and works with state and federal agencies to eliminate systemic barriers to food access. She has presented at both state and national conferences on the importance of equity in food security. She utilizes her skills as a vehicle for motivating and supporting lasting changes that bring about social justice and build grassroots leadership in her community.
Prior to joining Worcester Together, Gina worked as a corporate associate in Southeast Asia and as a law clerk for the first circuit court of appeals and at the Massachusetts appeal courts for the honorable Cynthia Cohen and Mark Kantrowitz.
Gina can be reached at email@example.com