One reason Justin Burkhardt ’02 took his current job with Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, in Portland, ME, was because the company was “mission-driven,” he says. Throughout the pandemic, he has had an opportunity to support that mission, alleviating food insecurity.
Originally from Milford, NH, Burkhardt was a political science and American studies major at Marist. After graduating, he worked for Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, the first female governor of New Hampshire. When Shaheen became a US senator, Burkhardt joined her Washington, DC, staff and served as deputy chief of staff. After six and a half years on Capitol Hill, he relocated to Maine with his partner, David, and took a position as the marketing strategy manager with Harvard Pilgrim, a not-for-profit health care services company based in New England. The company’s mission is to improve the quality and value of health care for the communities it serves throughout the Northeast.
His position involves not only developing marketing strategies but also assisting the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation in supporting Maine nonprofits. One program has been especially meaningful to him: Harvard Pilgrim’s Greater Portland COVID-19 Relief Meal Delivery Project.
“During my time at Harvard Pilgrim, I have been involved in dozens of initiatives focused on giving back to the community,” he says. “However, this may be one of the most impactful.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in mid-March of 2020, Burkhardt was sent from his Portland office to work from his home in Cape Elizabeth, ME, for the rest of the year. That didn’t stop him from making an impact on his community, though. As part of his work with the foundation, he identified a Portland-based nonprofit, Cooking for Community, worthwhile of support. This newly formed initiative brought together food producers, restaurants, and agencies to ease food insecurity in the state.
“Both of our missions aligned to help those in need,” said Burkhardt.
Harvard Pilgrim partnered with Cooking for Community and the YMCA of Southern Maine to deliver meals to individuals and families impacted by the pandemic. Cooking for Community coordinated with local restaurants to prepare weekly meals, using many ingredients purchased from local farms. The YMCA of Southern Maine delivered the meals to homes across 24 towns.
In its first 11 months of operation, from April 2020 to February 2021, Cooking with Community served more than 92,000 meals. Currently 2,200 meals a week are distributed through its partnerships with 20 social service organizations and 20 restaurants, putting dozens of food industry workers back to work.
In addition, Burkhardt reached out to Maine’s nonprofit community to raise awareness about additional grant opportunities through the Harvard Pilgrim Foundation. From March to July 2020, the foundation gave more than $1.7 million in COVID-19 relief grants to help more than 70 small and large nonprofits throughout the state of Maine.
“It feels,” said Burkhardt, “like we made a positive impact.”