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In The Bank

Posted on Friday, December 16th, 2011

“Perfect Storm” of challenges makes community generosity critical for The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

Last fall, the State House provided level-funding to the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP), the state-funded program that allows us and other food banks across the Commonwealth to purchase nutritious food for distribution to emergency feeding programs, like food pantries and meal sites, in their service areas. But rising food costs as well as updated poverty statistics for Western Mass. have reduced the amount of food The Food Bank of Western Mass. is able to acquire with MEFAP funds.

Foods like rice, canned tuna, ground beef, soup and peanut butter are some of the most popular among Food Bank member agencies, and are among the foods that have seen a steep increase in price this year –in some instances by as much as 30 percent. Across the board, prices for these core food items have increased by an average of 16.7 percent from last year. With MEFAP funding holding steady, this spike in the costs of staple nutritious foods means that less food can be purchased with the same amount of dollars.  In addition to the higher food costs, a reassessment of the Commonwealth’s poverty rates has reduced Western Massachusetts’ share of MEFAP monies by 1.19 percent. This does not mean poverty rates have dropped in the region; the overall poverty level in Western Mass. has remained stable, while other regions have seen increased rates.

“With rising food costs and need in our community not abating, we are looking into the very near future and seeing a different landscape for food banking,” says Andrew Morehouse, executive director of The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. “Over half of the food we distributed in our 2011 fiscal year [October 2010-September 2011] was acquired with government dollars, either state or federal. If we don’t act, that may not be possible.”

Funding for food commodities for food banks across the country is also at risk at the federal level. While the next step in the failed federal budget deficit process is still unclear, food and nutrition programs have continually been on the table for cuts. If enacted, cuts to the federal Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) or SNAP/Food Stamps would place a serious burden on local food banks trying to keep up with need for food assistance in our communities.

The “perfect storm” of rising food costs, sustained high levels of reliance on emergency food, and reduced food resources available from the government means that The Food Bank of Western Mass. is ever more reliant on local donations, of both food and funds, to continue to meet its mission of working with the community to reduce hunger and increase food security in Western Mass.

“Last year, 13% of our revenue came from individuals and corporations, most of which are local,” said Morehouse. “As the largest food assistance organization serving local communities from Springfield to Pittsfield, The Food Bank leverages those local dollars to help our neighbors right here in Western Mass.”

“The Food Bank also relies on our community to represent our region’s needs to state and federal legislators,” continued Morehouse. “State and federal support for food and nutrition programs is critical to our food bank’s ability to meet the need for food assistance here at home.”

If you’d like to contribute funds to help fight hunger in Western Mass., you can visit our secure donate page. Remember, every dollar donated can be leveraged by The Food Bank to provide 13 dollars worth of food. If you’re more interested in starting a food drive, you can find out more information about traditional or virtual food drives (which are run through a portal that allows donors to buy food online), can find out more information on the “Take Action” section the website. You can also sign up to receive advocacy alerts for state and federal legislation here.

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