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In The Bank

Posted on Thursday, September 8th, 2011

The first installment of the Hunger Action Month speaker series was a success.

Despite having one of our scheduled speakers, Dino Schnelle, unable to attend do to flooding in Franklin County, the first session of the Hunger Action Month speaker series proved to be a valuable forum for members of the Western Massachusetts emergency food network, educators, and concerned citizens to share their experiences and the ways in which they see hunger manifests itself in the community.

One of the most common misconceptions is the assumption that if someone is hungry, that means they do not have a job and are living on the streets. What most people don’t understand is that anyone can experience hunger. It is a silent epidemic that affects more than 49 million Americans, and more than 108,000 of our neighbors here in Western Massachusetts.

According to the US Census Bureau, in 2008, 19 million people lived in working-poor families. This translates into nearly 9 percent of all American families living below 100 percent of poverty have at least one family member working. In fact, 31 percent of client households served by The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts network have one or more adults working. Many more have only recently become unemployed, and are seeking food assistance for the first time in their lives.

Linda Brooks, the Kitchen Coordinator at the Amherst Survival Center, spoke to the crowd of about forty about that agency’s efforts and programs. She’s been running the kitchen at the Amherst Survival Center for five years, and in that time, she’s seen many different types of people come through the doors.

Linda estimated that maybe only ten percent of the individuals who seek food assistance at the Survival Center in Amherst, a town considered by many in the area to be affluent, are homeless.  Many more are single parents, working families, the newly unemployed, or elders trying to make ends meet.  And just as those seeking food assistance are diverse, so are their palettes.

“Everyone has a right to be treated with dignity and respect… no one has a right to be judged,” said Linda. It is with keeping this sentiment in mind that she and the rest of the workers and volunteers at the Amherst Survival Center strive to bring their clients a vast selection of nutritious, tasty meals that will not only meet caloric need, but will be enjoyed. “Food is nutrition… food is medicine… food is life,” Linda went on to say. Meals fill more than our bellies. They help us make human connections, experiences vital to having a fulfilling life. Amherst Survival Center and the rest of our 300 member agencies work hard to bring this sense of community to the 108,000 people they serve each year.

One of the best aspects of our work at The Food Bank is seeing how different members of the emergency food network in the region are  able to connect and share best practices, a service we are harnessing and organizing with our new Network Capacity Building program. We got to see this invaluable network in action this morning, as representatives from pantries, shelters, meal sites, farmers markets, and classrooms raised questions, offered answers, and swapped stories about their experiences with hunger and the best methods of getting food to those who need it.

If you’re interested in attending a future session of the Hunger Action Month speaker series, taking place on Thursday mornings in September (breakfast is provided), click here, or call 413.247.9738.

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