Brittany Mangini of DTA & Robert Leshin of DESE Receive Patrick Hughes Award for Social Justice

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Brittany Mangini, Director of Food Security and Nutrition at the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), and Robert Leshin, Director of the Office for Food and Nutrition Programs at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), are being recognized for their leadership, creativity, and passion to ensure everyone across the Commonwealth can meet their most basic need, food.

In Massachusetts, 1 in 5 households with children is struggling without enough to eat. Massachusetts proved to be a national leader in fighting food insecurity at scale by addressing structural barriers to food and acting quickly and effectively to increase access to federal nutrition programs in Massachusetts.  Project Bread is proud to announce the nonprofit’s most distinguished award, the Patrick Hughes Award for Social Justice, will honor these two statewide leaders for their collaborative work to provide relief to families struggling without enough to eat.

Erin McAleer, President and CEO of Project Bread, said, “Rob and Brittany have led cross-agency collaboration in a manner that serves as a national model. Massachusetts acted quickly on behalf of families and hundreds of thousands of the Commonwealth’s kids have benefited from their dedication and hard work.  We are honored to have worked with them during such a challenging but important time and to continue to work with them as we build towards an equitable recovery.”

Pandemic-related school and job closures and financial uncertainty led food insecurity in the Commonwealth to increase rapidly. For the past two years, Leshin and Mangini have worked with their teams to implement programs to allow families and individuals easier access to food. Their work culminated in an innovative joint effort for addressing childhood food insecurity through Pandemic EBT (P-EBT), which provided families over $1 billion in funds to purchase food while schools were closed. In addition to P-EBT, both Leshin and Mangini have tirelessly pursued all available opportunities to support safe and reliable food access for hundreds of thousands of families across our state.

Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA)

Brittany Mangini

Mangini saw a sharp spike in the need for federal nutrition programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) across the Commonwealth as food insecurity doubled. Since March 2020, the SNAP caseload has increased 30% from 786,000 to over 990,000 residents, totaling 14% of the Massachusetts population. To respond to the expanding needs of the population, Mangini led the DTA in launching the SNAP online purchasing program, partnering with major retailers such as Amazon, Walmart, Stop ‘n Shop, Aldi, BJ’s, Hannaford, and Price Chopper. Since March 2020, she has also enabled SNAP Emergency Allotments to increase households’ SNAP benefits to at least the maximum monthly amount. 

brittany smiling with arms crossed

“Brittany brings her dedication and passion every day to helping Massachusetts families access healthy, local, and culturally accessible food,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders.

“The economic fallout of the pandemic exacerbated food insecurity across the Commonwealth. During an incredibly consequential time, Brittany’s leadership drove the state’s effort to support equitable access to SNAP and implement entirely new federal programs, like P-EBT and SNAP Online Purchasing. On behalf of the Administration, I want to congratulate Brittany on this well-deserved recognition and express our gratitude to her and our partners at Project Bread and DESE for their outstanding work to make a difference in the lives of so many.”

robert leshin headshot smiling

Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE)

Robert Leshin

Leshin faced statewide school closures which meant hundreds of thousands of children suddenly losing access to school meals--sometimes the only meals available to children from low-income families. To address this loss of nutrition, Leshin facilitated the creation of over 1,000 grab-and-go lunch meal sites across the state during remote learning, as well as over 1,600 grab-and-go Summer Eats sites just in the summer of 2021, which provided 7.5 million meals to kids and teens. His team also led the communication with school districts on serving free school meals to all students. This year, with universal school meals in place, school breakfast and lunch participation have increased by 12.4% and 19.1%, respectively.

“I’m proud of the collaboration between DESE and DTA during the pandemic, and I’m happy to see Rob recognized,” Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley said. “Rob and his team are dedicated to connecting students with school meals, especially when students face food insecurity.”

Mangini and Leshin joined forces to create a dynamic model of state agency cross-collaboration in P-EBT. To date the program has provided benefits to over 550,000 students and brought over $1 billion  into the Commonwealth. Their leadership catalyzed Massachusetts to be one of the first states in the country to quickly implement this new and far reaching federal program. Each of their commitments to creating a tangible impact made them clear choices as recipients of the Patrick Hughes Award for Social Justice.

The Patrick Hughes Award for Social Justice was created by Project Bread to honor the legacy of the man whose deep-seated passion for social justice and entrepreneurial spirit led him to found Project Bread’s Walk for Hunger in 1969 as an innovative approach to raise awareness and funds for people living without enough to eat. The award recognizes individuals with an unyielding commitment to driving meaningful change by addressing the causes of hunger, thus carrying forward the spirit of Hughes’ legacy. As part of the award, Leshin and Mangini received $5,000 each to donate to a community organization.  Mangini has chosen La Colaborativa, and Leshin will be supporting the School Nutrition Association of Massachusetts.

“I am honored to be selected for this award,” said Leshin. “It has been a challenging two years for school nutrition programs and for all who have worked to ensure food safety nets remain intact during the pandemic. Watching school nutrition professionals serve meals outside in the snow, deliver meals to homes and partner with food pantries to expand food access inspired me to do better and to do more. It is immensely fulfilling to play a role in ensuring that all students are healthy and ready to succeed, and I’m excited to continue the work.”

“To receive an award that emphasizes social justice is deeply meaningful to me,” said Mangini. “Coming from a family of social workers, commitment to social justice is core to my being. I feel deeply passionate about ensuring access to healthy, culturally relevant food to everyone as a human right. I credit my parents, a lifelong social worker and inner-city school teacher, with exposing me as a young child to realities of life in deep poverty. Meeting children who were the same age as me but went with so much less, including food, deeply impacted me and has driven me to dedicate my life to helping others and working toward a more fair and equitable society. I also want to acknowledge my team who carried the weight of our pandemic response on their shoulders with grace and unwavering commitment.”

Project Bread has worked closely over the years with both Leshin and Mangini. As the official nonprofit lead partner on DESE’s Summer Eats and School Breakfast campaigns, Project Bread has partnered with schools and meal site sponsors over the last two years to provide promotional support, staff training, and set up supplies, including tents, kitchen supplies, and more. Project Bread’s FoodSource Hotline connects Massachusetts residents with nutrition resources and food assistance, including administering pre-screens for SNAP eligibility and helping residents submit their applications to the DTA. Partnering with each state agency has allowed the nonprofit to provide expert and compassionate care to families across the Commonwealth.

The Walk for Hunger in its 54th year will be held virtually on May 1, 2022, and continues to raise funds to support anti-hunger efforts in Massachusetts every first Sunday in May since its inception. Register today - its free - and start your personal fundraiser or fundraising team - or donate.

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