Health Imperatives Awarded $374,000 Grant To Reduce Hunger & Improve Nutrition On Martha’s Vineyard

Health Imperatives, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of low-income and vulnerable families and individuals in Southeastern Massachusetts, has been awarded a $374,000 grant to address hunger, health disparities, and severe under-enrollment of Women, Infants and Children (WIC)-eligible families on Martha’s Vineyard. With this funding, Health imperatives will implement a WIC Community Innovation and Outreach Project (WIC CIAO) supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service.

“Martha’s Vineyard’s extreme wealth gap and growing diversity make it incredibly difficult for hard-working people to meet their basic needs,” said Health Imperatives CEO Julia Kehoe. “We are grateful for the opportunity to expand and strengthen WIC across the Island, reducing obstacles to access and ultimately reducing health disparities for all.”

Health Imperatives already has proven success in this area: a similar pilot program on Nantucket increased WIC enrollment by more than 50% by improving service delivery, increasing local partnerships, and hiring local WIC ambassadors.

WIC is a federal nutrition program that provides nutritious foods, nutrition education, breastfeeding support, and health care referrals to nutritionally at-risk infants, children up to 5 years old, and pregnant and postpartum individuals from households with low incomes. Despite its proven benefits, there is an alarmingly high rate of non-participation amongst WIC-eligible families nationwide. The WIC CIAO project aims to increase enrollment by providing technical assistance and funding to projects conducting innovative WIC outreach and using these findings to inform a summary report and several national resources including an outreach report for WIC operators and partners.

On Martha’s Vineyard, factors such as a significant wealth gap, geographic isolation, and residents’ immigration status mean only 43% of the WIC-eligible population is utilizing the program. To expand access and increase enrollment, Health Imperatives will partner with Island Grown Initiative (IGI), a well-established nonprofit rooted in the Martha’s Vineyard community that leads an innovative, collaborative effort to increase local food production, reduce food waste, promote climate-friendly farming techniques, and expand access to healthy, affordable food. IGI is embedded within, and has longstanding partnerships with, many organizations and service providers on the Island, such as the hospital, health center, schools, churches, libraries, and day care centers.

Health Imperatives will implement the following measures to expand access to WIC services on the island:

  • Improve service delivery by hiring two WIC staff who live on-island. On-island staff ensure expanded access to appointments and services while reflecting the community being served. This erases the need for off-island staff to travel for clinic visits, journeys that were often cancelled or rescheduled due to inclement weather that cancelled ferries to and from the island.
  • Increase partnerships with local healthcare and community partners. Health Imperatives’ clinic is located in Vineyard Haven, but barriers to transportation mean residents of the other five Vineyard towns are often unable to travel there. By increasing partnerships with community organizations across the island, Health Imperatives will reduce barriers to access across all six towns.
  • Empower local WIC clients to serve as program ambassadors. Health Imperatives will hire and train local, multi-lingual, current and former WIC clients to help their neighbors navigate shopping for WIC foods, creating an innovative and empowering pipeline of employment while expanding WIC access and awareness.

By implementing these measures, Health Imperatives hopes to increase access to WIC benefits and services among Martha’s Vineyard’s low-income population, leading to increased WIC enrollment amongst WIC-eligible residents and ultimately, the increased use of WIC food benefits.

“Island Grown Initiative is delighted to partner with Health Imperatives to increase WIC access,” noted IGI Executive Director Rebecca Haag. “Together, through community outreach, nutrition education, and streamlined access to WIC services, we will work to ensure that no family on the Island lacks access to healthy, nutritious meals.”

By expanding access to WIC, Health Imperatives will reduce disparities in health and nutrition on the Vineyard. Further, by embedding WIC services into community locations around the island and hiring multi-lingual providers, disparities in transportation and language will also be lessened.    

About WIC CIAO  

WIC CIAO is administered through a USDA cooperative agreement with the Food Research & Action Center, in partnership with the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition, the Native American Agriculture Fund, and UnidosUS. WIC CIAO is part of USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service broader initiative to modernize WIC.

Visit to find out more about the WIC CIAO Project and awardees, and sign up for updates on WIC CIAO events and announcements.    

About Health Imperatives  

Health Imperatives is a 501(c)(3) organization serving Southeastern Massachusetts and the Cape and Islands. Its mission is to improve the health and well-being of low-income or vulnerable families and individuals in the region.  

Health Imperatives’ trauma-informed, inclusive services are structured around four primary areas of focus and expertise: Sexual and Reproductive Health Care and other Health Care Services, Youth and Young Families, WIC Nutrition Assistance and Support for Survivors of Violence. Through these services, Health Imperatives provides high-quality, compassionate, and equitable care to people of all income levels, races, ethnicities, sexualities, gender identities, countries of origin, and immigration status.