Food insecurity rising in Western Mass. amid pandemic
SCOTT MERZBACHStaff Writer
Published: 6/3/2020 8:34:35 PM Greenfield Recorder
HATFIELD — Up to a quarter of all children in Western Massachusetts may not know where their next meal will come from, or may not easily be able to get fresh and healthy food, as hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic continue, according to a new study.
The report by Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States, anticipates a substantial increase in food insecurity and hunger in the region, and organizations including the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts are already feeling the impact. The food bank has already distributed 19 percent more emergency food in March and April this year compared with the same months last year.
Food Bank Executive Director Andrew Morehouse suspects this demand will continue to increase as unemployment remains high, making a recent virtual food drive known as the Millions of Meals Initiative critical to keeping the food supply intact for Pioneer Valley residents.
On Wednesday, in the parking lot at the nonprofit’s large Hatfield facility, the food bank and the Antonacci Family Foundation announced that the initiative reached a milestone of $250,000, with each dollar collected representing four meals.
“That’s 1 million meals we’ve been able to provide now that we wouldn’t have been able to two months ago,” Morehouse said.
The virtual food drive kicked off last month with a $125,000 donation that Frank M. Antonacci, chief operating officer of USA Waste & Recycling and spokesperson for the foundation, said served as a way to rally support in the communities the company serves.
“The upcoming challenge is we do not forget those who have been harmed far beyond any end date to the pandemic,” Antonacci said.
Making financial contributions was seen as the most efficient way to increase the amount of food that could be distributed in the region, said Dennis Murphy, president of Ventry Associates, which handles business relations for the foundation.
“The idea was to encourage the community to rally and recognize the hardships caused by COVID,” Murphy said.
Morehouse said the food bank supports 51 Brown Bag: Food for Elders sites in Western Massachusetts, 21 of which are in Hampshire and Franklin counties; five mobile food pantries in the area, in Easthampton, Amherst, Greenfield, Turners Falls and Ware; and various agencies and nonprofits, such as the Amherst Survival Center, the Easthampton Community Center, the Center for Self-Reliance in Greenfield and the Franklin County Community Meals Program.
Hatfield Selectboard Chair Diana Szynal said the town takes pride in hosting the food bank and its service in providing healthy food to people and giving local farmers a place for their products to get to people.
Szynal praised the Antonacci Family Foundation and the people who have donated to the effort because of the local impact.
“When you make donations, it’s staying here and feeding people locally,” Szynal said.
In Northampton, the pandemic has exacerbated the situation for families and children facing hunger, said Alan Wolf, chief of staff for Mayor David Narkewicz. Wolf said the city is grateful for the financial support its programs are receiving.
Similarly, Easthampton relies on support from the food bank, said City Councilor Lindsey Rothschild. She added that it was nice to have some great news to share with her community.
How the money raised has been used can be seen firsthand inside the facility, where shelves are lined with thousands of pounds of food from federal and state programs, local and food bank farms, supermarkets and wholesale and retail food businesses, and community organizations and individuals.
Staff use forklifts, and their own muscles, to put the boxes on the shelves and into freezers, while volunteers make other boxes that will be brought to mobile food pantries.
Mike Cortis, who manages food operations at the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, said several orders using money from the Millions of Meals Initiative have focused on shelf-stable items, such as canned soups and different types of pasta. This has allowed the food bank to keep the shelves well stocked.
Morehouse said the only issue with using the virtual food drive money has been whether product arrives in a timely manner, with some shipments delayed due to the pandemic.
Rising food insecurityThe need is not expected to slow, as the Feeding America report, titled “The Impact of the Coronavirus on Local Food Insecurity,” shows that as many as one in seven adults, and one in four children, are food-insecure.
Even before the pandemic, 86,480 people and 22,650 children in Western Massachusetts did not have adequate access to nutritious food to live a healthy life. Estimates are that there’s been a 47 percent increase, to 127,090 people, and an even larger 62 percent increase to 36,620 children, in food insecurity in the last year.
■In Hampshire County, 13 percent of the population, or 20,570 individuals, are considered food-insecure, an increase of 56 percent, or 7,380 people. For children, 17 percent, or 4,180, are considered food-insecure, representing an 86 percent increase in the past year.
■In Franklin County, 14 percent of the population, or 9,650 individuals, are considered food-insecure, an increase of 53 percent, or 3,330 people. For children, 20 percent, or 2,480, are considered food-insecure, representing a 71 percent increase.
■In Berkshire County, 15 percent of the population, or 19,300 individuals, are considered food-insecure, a 52 percent, or 6,640-person increase. For children, 23 percent, or 5,090, are considered food-insecure, representing a 67 percent increase.
■Finally, in Hampden County, 17 percent of the population, or 77,570 individuals, are considered food-insecure, an increase of 43 percent, or 23,360 people. For children, 24 percent, or 24,870, are considered food-insecure, representing a 56 percent increase.
“As high unemployment persists, more households are at risk of hunger and food insecurity, uncertain how they are going to afford to buy food,” Morehouse said.
June is the month when the congregation runs the Hunger Doesn't Take the Summer Off food drive. Our neighbours are in need, more so than usual. And our neighbours are also helping each other.
We're not sure of the details on how we will run our food drive during this time of pandemic, but if you can pick-up non-perishable food items when you go shopping and keep them at home, know that we will be running the drive.
And as you can see in the article, every dollar provides 4 meals so your monetary contributions can actually go further than in-kind donations.
Whatever you can donate is appreciated.
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