Courtesy of Southern Connecticut State University

The Community Alliance for Research and Engagement recently received a $3.4 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the CDC — to help the program continue to address racial and socioeconomic health disparities in New Haven.   

The alliance, known as CARE, is a joint partnership between the School of Public Health and Southern Connecticut State University that uses community-engaged research to help improve the health of low-income and marginalized communities. This is the second consecutive five-year grant from the CDC’s Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health program, which funds various initiatives that target health disparities across different racial groups. 

According to Alycia Santilli, the director of CARE at SCSU, the alliance hopes to use this new funding to expand access to healthier foods, support breast-feeding accommodations and strengthen transportation infrastructure.  

“In New Haven’s low-income neighborhoods — predominantly communities of color — we see wealth disparities that are staggering; 34 percent of residents live below the federal poverty threshold, compared to 26 percent across New Haven and 10 percent in [Connecticut],” Santilli wrote in an email to the News. “More than 30 percent of [households] in these neighborhoods experience food insecurity. Wealth disparities drive health disparities.” 

CARE directs multiple initiatives that address different health issues, including vaccine outreach, chronic disease prevention and health education in New Haven Public Schools. In 2019, CARE founded Supporting Wellness at Pantries, or SWAP, a health advocacy program that seeks to improve the community’s overall nutrition by increasing the selection of healthier food options at New Haven food pantries.  

Sofia Morales, a program manager of research and evaluation at CARE, said the program hopes to expand to 12 additional food pantries across the city.  

“If we really want to increase the access to healthy foods at food pantries, we need to change the system,” Morales said. “We need to work with the regional food bank and others at the policy level to make healthy food accessible so pantries can procure more nutritious options for community members.” 

The new grant will also allow CARE to form a working group to help identify and implement policy changes in the food access system. Morales said members of the working group will include food pantry workers, leaders from community-based organizations, representatives from regional food banks and those with lived expertise of food insecurity.  

Along with SWAP, CARE hopes to expand two other initiatives. The first is the ​“Support Breastfeeding Anytime, Anyplace” campaign, which seeks to provide more breastfeeding accommodations in community spaces. The second is the “Roots of Racial Inequities in Breastfeeding” program, which offers healthcare providers cultural competence training to target breastfeeding disparities among Black and Brown patients.  

Further, CARE hopes to reinforce its “Safe Routes For All” active transit plan, which, in collaboration with the New Haven government, seeks to expand the city’s walking, biking and transit infrastructure. The plan also is looking to promote road safety measures to make New Haven safer for walkers and bicyclists.  

Jackson Higginbottom, a program administrator for health and vaccine communications at CARE, pointed to how CARE listens to community members who have advocated for greater support for maternal care and road safety. 

“I really hope that as long as we are continuing to support and listen to our community, and our priorities are in alignment with theirs, we will have the impact that we are hoping for,” Higginbottom said. 

Morales emphasized that CARE prioritizes input from community members who have endured socioeconomic inequities to inform their approaches to current health disparities in New Haven.  

To expand its outreach and impact, CARE relies on the partnerships it has formed across different cities to help provide input on pertinent local issues, Santilli said.  

“This work should not ever be done in a vacuum,  but in close collaboration with folks on the ground who are deeply tied to — and experiencing — health inequities every day,” Santilli wrote to the News. 

CARE was founded in 2007 at the School of Public Health.