71% of the people we serve live in poverty. Nearly half of them have had to choose between buying food and paying for utilities, rent, mortgage or medical care.
Diana Spurgin spends most Tuesday mornings laughing and smiling with her friends. They aren’t sitting idle while they chat, however. They are helping make sure that the more than 235,000 people in Western Massachusetts who rely on the emergency food network have enough to eat. She and her friends work the morning warehouse volunteer shift at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, and they are integral to our operation. This April, we recognize our passionate volunteers and the important work that they do as part of our celebration of National Volunteer Month.
“It’s the type of place volunteers stay,” says Diana noting the many long-time regulars. “It’s such a great bonding experience. You’re standing next to someone from Hatfield and someone from Shelburne Falls, and you all know you’re doing something great together.”
Diana has been volunteering at The Food Bank for the past 4 years. In addition, she also spends time volunteering at the Amherst Survival Center, our member agency in the town in which she lives. She first visited The Food Bank after learning that much of the food served at the Survival Center was provided by The Food Bank, and seeing the impact that access to food can make.
“When I learned the surprisingly high number of children who can only rely on school lunches that was a real eye-opener for me,” says Diana. “A lot of people are opening empty refrigerators. No one should be hungry.”
Diana and her fellow volunteers sort food donations, taking care to make sure they are organized and packaged correctly for distribution. This is integral to making sure that all food distributed is fresh and ready to be delivered to those who need it most. She never finds her time to be boring, due to the friendly company.
“It’s a great group of people. I don’t feel like I’m working,” says Diana. “If anything, it’s good exercise. I always tell people that volunteering at The Food Bank is my exercise. We are lifting banana boxes full of canned goods!”
In addition to her usual Tuesday shift, Diana has also volunteered at a number of Food Bank events, including Will Bike 4 Food and our monthly Family Volunteer Day. She has even answered telephones during Monte’s March for the past three years.
“I love hearing the voices of people calling in who have like-minded goals and support the great work that Monte does,” says Diana who offered a matching donation for Amherst residents while volunteering this past year when her phone didn’t ring for a little longer than she would like.
Diana is involved in the community outside of The Food Bank as well. In additional to volunteering at Amherst Survival Center, she is the Vice President of the board for the Amherst Education Foundation, an independent, non-profit organization which supports Amherst area public schools in providing a challenging and enriching educational experience, and serves on the vestry at Grace Episcopal Church.
Recently, one of her passion projects snowballed into a much bigger fundraiser. When Diana became aware of how many families could not afford diapers during Diaper Need Awareness Week, she decided to do something about it by taking-up a collection at her church. Within one week, approximately 1,870 diapers were collected. When Amherst Survival Center’s Executive Director Mindy Domb learned of this early success, the two began to strategize expanding the effort.
They organized diaper drop-off sites throughout Amherst with help from Center for Human Development’s Family Outreach of Amherst, United Way of Pioneer Valley, the Amherst College Center for Community Engagement, State Representative Ellen Story, the district office representative for WIC, and other concerned individuals in the community.
“Everybody I’ve talked to has been as astounded as I was by the extent of diaper need in our community,” said Diana. The goal for the Amherst-area Diaper Drive was set at 18,000 diapers and 54,000 wipes. By the end of the drive 27,545 diapers and 54,000 wipes had been collected, far surpassing the goal for diapers and meeting the ambitious quota for wipes.
Involved citizens such as Diana and her fellow volunteers help keep our community strong. They truly make a difference in the lives of our neighbors who are struggling to both pay their bills and put food on the table, and they do so with a smile.
“Without volunteers The Food Bank couldn’t do what it’s doing. Everyone should volunteer at The Food Bank,” says Diana before hesitating for a moment. “Just don’t come in on Tuesday and take my spot!” she says with a laugh.Comments Off
Hunger is not just about lack of food. It’s also about lack of nutritious food. Here at The Food Bank, our dedicated Nutrition department addresses the connection between food and health by leading programs in the community, and educating our neighbors in need so they can make healthier choices. Drawing upon their years of experience, they share their knowledge and improve clients’ health by raising awareness of the foods they eat.
Our nutrition outreach programs address many of the larger nutritional challenges facing our community. In addition, we also work closely with many clients who are unaware of how easy it can be to eat healthy on a limited budget. While many people feel that they can’t afford to eat healthy food, the cost (in both money and preparation time) of home cooked meals versus fast food is overestimated.
“People are under a lot of stress, but they want to feed their families more nutritious meals,” said Diane Alpern, The Food Bank’s Nutrition Coordinator. “Getting people motivated to feel good about cooking with healthy ingredients is important. We are providing full-length educational workshops that teach how to make a healthy plate without spending more.” With more than 20 years experience in the field, including hospital and outpatient environments, Diane is a registered dietitian and an active member of the Western Area Massachusetts Dietetic Association.
While fast food may be tempting for families on a tight budget, it can be much easier to resist the drive-thru knowing that there are healthier options well within reach. Just think about what $2.49 might buy at a fast food place, compared with how many healthy meals could be prepared with one dozen eggs for $2.49. Eating healthy meals doesn’t require long hours in the kitchen and expensive ingredients. Our workshops and supermarket tours empower people with limited incomes to make healthy choices for their families. Recipes incorporating food being distributed as ingredients are often passed out at Mobile Food Bank and Brown Bag sites. We even provide recipes that only require a microwave, for those who find themselves without access to a kitchen.
“One of the recipes was made with spaghetti squash and some of the people attending the class had never tasted any kind of squash,” said Darleen St. Jacques, Program Manager of Loaves and Fishes Kitchen at Open Pantry in Springfield, following a cooking demonstration. “They now are buying and cooking different types of squash available at the grocery stores! They were so excited to learn about this vegetable.”
“Nutrition has such an impact on every aspect on your life,” states Laura Fries, The Food Bank’s Assistant Nutrition Coordinator. She notes that small changes bring both immediate results, such as more energy and a better ability to focus, as well as reducing the likelihood of serious health issues in the future. Laura will receive a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst this May. She brings a fresh perspective to organizing education programs at a community level and is enthusiastic about teaching healthy eating habits.
We believe that everyone has a right to nutritious food regardless of their circumstances. Lack of nutritious food has a domino effect on all aspects of a person’s life. Without access to critical items such as lean meats, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, areas with high rates of food insecurity experience increased rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, , and other health problems. The healthier you are, the more time you can spend improving your situation instead of missing work or school due to health concerns. During National Nutrition Month in March, we shine a light on the importance eating well plays in our community. But Nutrition is important to the fight against hunger every day of the year.
Be sure to visit our Nutrition Tips for more information about preparing healthy meals, and a number of easy and delicious recipes.Comments Off
When you think of canned goods what comes to mind? Soup? Beans? Tuna? For many, produce might not be the most obvious answer. But canned fruits and vegetables have many benefits and can be a great way to meet your dietary recommendations on a budget, while avoiding food waste.
31% of people in Massachusetts report eating fruit less than one time a day, and 20% report eating vegetables less than one time a day. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that most individuals should be eating at least 2 cups of fruit and 2½ cups or more of vegetables daily, to maintain good health. Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins and minerals that help make you healthy and keep you strong, as well as fiber which helps keep you fuller longer.
You have three main options when purchasing your produce at the supermarket: fresh, frozen, or canned. While fresh produce is highly regarded for its outstanding nutrition value, canned items have a number of advantages to people shopping on a tight budget. Not only do they reduce preparation and cooking time, but they are also easy to store and have a long shelf life. With canned items, you can create delicious meals in minutes. To help you prepare healthy meals when you have limited time, keep your pantry stocked with canned items such as beans, lentils, vegetables, tomato products, and broth.
Canned goods are an easy and affordable way to increase the variety of fruits and vegetables you eat all year. 15-20% of all fresh produce is thrown away each year, so canned goods are a great way to reduce waste. Canned produce counts towards your daily intake of fruits and vegetables. Reports show that frequent canned food users have higher intakes of both fruits and vegetables. In addition, as they are usually canned hours after harvest in air tight containers, they may have even more nutrients than out of season fresh produce.
When purchasing canned fruits and vegetables, there are a few nutrition concerns to keep in mind. Salt, or sodium, is something to try and minimize in your diet. The general adult population should consume 2,300 mg or less. While it is true that many processed foods are higher in salt, many canned vegetables offer low sodium or no salt added options which can be great alternatives. For instance, a typical ½ cup serving of regular green beans contains 380 mg of sodium, while a ½ cup serving of “No Salt Added” green beans may contain 10-40 mg.
Another way to reduce the amount of salt in canned produce is to drain and rinse it through a colander before use, which can reduce salt by nearly half. Sodium levels are often highest in products like soups, broths, and prepared foods like beef stew. Make sure you look at the serving size and compare it to what you normally eat; for instance, many soup cans are actually 2 servings.
In addition to salt, sugar is something else that should be reduced in our normal diet. When it comes to canned foods, this can be a concern. However, it can be easily resolved by choosing products canned in juice, light syrup, or water. Canned fruit in heavy or light syrup will always contain more sugar than canned fruit in water or juice. People with high blood sugar concerns may choose to rinse fruit that has been packaged in syrup, to reduce its sugar content.
Canned foods are a great choice to include in a balanced diet. As long as you pay attention to the nutrition facts labels to help you make the healthiest choice when shopping, delicious meals are just a can opener away.Comments Off
Since this past October, the state of Massachusetts has seen an exceptionally sharp decline in the number of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly food stamps) recipients. This sudden drop is not due to recovery in the economy, but rather to a “business process redesign” implemented by the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA).
Although this new system was designed to match caseworkers with clients more quickly and provide benefits more efficiently, lack of proper testing and training for staff has resulted in a number of challenges causing problems for thousands of people across the state.
These problems are having a tremendous impact on the community here in Western Massachusetts. Our SNAP department, which assists clients throughout the application process, has been able to see first-hand the results of this faulty new system.
One particular client, attempting to report a change of address and household size, was denied benefits due to a series of paperwork and clerical errors. His recertification form was incorrectly mailed to his old address (after he reported his change of address), and he was forced to wait over a month to correct the problem and eventually receive SNAP benefits for his family.
Many of our senior clients tell us that when they call the DTA main number, the phone prompts are hard to understand and it doesn’t allow enough time for them to enter their information.
In many instances, clients are being told by DTA staff that their application has not been received. In actuality, the application is at the office but has yet to be processed. In some cases the application is submitted electronically, but lack of staff trained to retrieve these documents is preventing them from being processed.
One client, who was supposed to receive expedited benefits, was never scheduled for a standard interview by DTA. She called their main number, only to be told her application could not be found and she would have to reapply. Confused and upset, she contacted The Food Bank. We contacted DTA on her behalf, but they were still unable to locate the application. It took six telephone calls to DTA and 15 days for them to process the client’s emergency food stamp benefits.
This decline in SNAP benefits has led to an increase of people seeking the services of local food pantries and meal sites. Our member agencies have reported a drastic increase in visits over the past few months, and are struggling to provide enough food for everyone in need.
As each day passes on these unprocessed applications, someone relying on assistance is not getting the help they need to put food on the table. That could mean a child going to school hungry, a senior citizen on a fixed income being forced to choose between paying for medications or food, or a working family struggling to make ends meet going without another dinner.
The Food Bank is helping to lead efforts in calling for changes to DTA’s current system. Together, with other hunger relief organizations, we are advocating for the immediate halt of all SNAP denials and terminations until the backlog is cleared. In addition, new procedures need to be implemented, allowing DTA staff to review all of the documents in a case before any termination or denial can take place. We are also recommending that DTA suspend further automated document processing, until it can be confirmed that it is accurate, relevant and affects current eligibility.
Learn how you can take action to support The Food Bank’s mission, and help advocate for change.Comments Off
During most days of the week, Linda Milewski can be found in The Food Bank warehouse, sorting food and training new volunteers. As she lives just down the road, she walks or rides her bike over when the weather permits. She has been volunteering at The Food Bank for fifteen years and regularly goes beyond the call of duty to give back.
Raised in Whately, Linda has lived in Hatfield for 42 years. She and her husband made the move after getting married, and have lived in the same house ever since. Following a 20 year career with the Hatfield Public Schools, Linda now spends her time tending to the 31 fruit trees she has planted in her yard. She enjoys canning fruit, jam and jelly — some of which she sells at local craft fairs. And of course, she spends much of her time at The Food Bank.
“My friend Helen was a volunteer. She said ‘Are you bored? Come with me!’” explains Linda. That was in 2000 — and she has been at The Food Bank ever since.
In that time, she has gotten to know a lot of the staff, including Food Processing Coordinator Kate Albrecht. Linda has learned so much in her time here that she received a special “Kate’s Stunt Double” award at our Volunteer Appreciation Picnic in the fall, recognizing her ability to fill in for Kate when she is out.
This title became especially literal when Kate recently broke her arm and was out for an extended period of time. Upon learning of Kate’s injury, Linda offered to fill in and has been voluntarily working full-time hours, making sure that the essential process of food sorting continues to run smoothly.
“We’re super lucky to have her,” says Justin Costa, Warehouse Coordinator. “Linda has been here so long she knows the routine and the other volunteers. Knowing she’s back there, I know it’s under control.”
Linda finds it especially rewarding to see how quickly the food arrives and is then distributed to those who need it. Often times, she says, fresh produce arrives and is picked up by local food pantries so quickly that unless you were in the warehouse, you’d never know it was even here.
“She has a great sense of humor and pretty much fills any room with good energy,” says Erin Sullivan, Volunteer Coordinator at The Food Bank. “She’s also very smart and has an incredible understanding of the best ways to set up and execute sorting projects. If we have a one-time group and Linda is running the show, I know they’re going to have a clear idea of what they’re supposed to do.”
Linda is truly a member of The Food Bank family and her hard work and dedication is appreciated by the entire staff.
“She’s really great,” says Justin. “We try to tell her at least three times a day.”Comments Off
by Andrew Morehouse, Executive Director at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts
I was really inspired recently and here’s why: I was privileged to bear witness to the founding convention of Berkshire Interfaith Organizing, or BIO, a new county-wide organization self-described as a “faith- and values-based multi-issue organization that will build community, develop leadership skills and tackle problems such as hunger/food insecurity that affect poor and working poor families in the Berkshires.”
It was very moving to watch 200 religious and lay leaders come together, based on their shared moral principles, in defense of the most vulnerable residents in towns and cities across the Berkshires. Founded by fourteen Catholic, Protestant and Jewish congregations, members of its Food Security Team visited The Food Bank several months ago to learn more about us and food insecurity in our region. We agreed that advocating for more state funding for nutritious food, through the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP), is just one of many ways we can and will work together to advance our mission “to feed our neighbors in need and, [together], lead the community to end hunger.”
We congratulate BIO for taking this bold and much-need stand, and look forward to collaborating with them in the future.Comments Off
On Sunday, March 8, hundreds of runners of all ages and skill levels will gather at Look Park in Florence and participate in a fun day of exercise to help make a difference in the community. For the past 22 years, the Western Area Massachusetts Dietetic Association (WAMDA) has held a 5k Run and Health Fair during National Nutrition Month. The event is a fundraiser to benefit The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. Since their first race in 1993, WAMDA have raised more than $33,800 to help feed our neighbors in need.
WAMDA is a voluntary non-profit association through which local dieticians support each other professionally and spread the word about who dieticians are and what they do. For WAMDA, part of promoting optimal nutrition and well-being in our community is taking a stand against hunger.
Whether you are a serious athlete or prefer to walk the 3 miles around the park, you will fit right in. There are cash prizes for first place for both men and women and also prizes for runners by age group if you are feeling competitive. At the end of the day, everyone is a winner for helping make sure our neighbors have access to nutritious food.
“One thing we’re really concerned with is food security and making sure there is good nutrition for people of all backgrounds,” says WAMDA member Lisa Wilby, who organizes the run. “It’s not just buying the food — it’s knowing what food to eat. The education that both WAMDA and The Food Bank provide makes a big difference in people’s lives.”
Hunger is not just about lack of food; it’s also about lack of nutritious food. The Food Bank’s nutrition program works to provide numerous resources to our partner agencies and their clients including taste tests, cooking demonstrations, and distributing healthy recipes at our Mobile Food Bank and Brown Bag: Food for Elders locations. They also teach clients how to make delicious meals with unfamiliar vegetables, such as beets and squash.
WAMDA shares this passion for education. Their run is unique from other races in that it features a Health Fair inside Look Park’s heated Garden House, complete with a post-race meal. The Health Fair is open to the public, which means that even while the runners are out, the Garden House is bustling with activity. This year, dieticians will be available to discuss sports nutrition, nutrition’s role in long term care, how to navigate the grocery store, and more. Runners will have the opportunity to have their blood pressure taken and discuss their gate with a professional. Available once again this year will be the ever-popular chair massage station.
“The goal of everyone in nutrition is to educate people how to make healthier choices,” says Diane Alpern, Nutrition Coordinator at The Food Bank, and a WAMDA member. “Our hope is that more people hear this message so that when they are in the bread aisle they pick a whole wheat bread over a white bread. By helping the head of a household learn how to provide healthier foods at no higher cost we are able to positively impact the quality of children’s diets.”
The 22nd Annual WAMDA 5K Run/Walk will be held Sunday March 8, 2015 at Look Park in Florence. The Health Fair in the Garden House will begin prior to the race at 10 am. Runners will begin the race at 11am.
To register for the race, or to get more information, visit: http://www.wamda.org/events/wamda-5k-road-race
Runners will receive a free performance long sleeved t-shirt if they preregister by February 21st. Registration is open until March 1st. Registration costs $23 online and $30 in person.
For helpful training tips visit: https://www.facebook.com/WAMDA5k.Comments Off
Fall is a special time of year. The leaves are changing color, the weather is getting colder, and most importantly people across America are giving thanks and giving back. In true Thanksgiving fashion, The Food Bank received an outpouring of support this November.
Throughout the month, volunteer groups visited The Food Bank to make a difference in our community, helping sort a combined total of 38,500 pounds of food:
Companies also made generous donations which will go far this holiday season and throughout the year:
There was also an unprecedented amount of events putting the “fun” in “fundraising:”
We are truly grateful for how generous the community has been this November. With the winter months approaching, many families are beginning to have to choose between making a trip to the grocery store and heating their homes. Your support brings us closer to living in a community where no one goes hungry and everyone has access to nutritious food.Comments Off
On Monday November 10, three cars pulled up to the loading dock at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts filled with children, mothers, and a half ton of peanut butter and jelly. Lavery Greenfield, an 8-year-old student at Hatfield Elementary School, organized a peanut butter and jelly drive which collected a total of 1,009 pounds throughout the month of October.
Lavery enlisted six of her friends to help— Sierra, Lucia, Oona, Vivien, Ursula and Lucy. The girls collected donations at Hatfield Elementary School, Smith College Campus School and Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School. To help promote the drive, they created flyers and posters. An email was sent out to families of students at Hatfield Elementary School, and Lavery made an announcement over the loudspeaker to make sure everyone at school knew that the drive was happening. They even received support from The Smith College Campus School, which engaged their entire 3rd grade class in the drive as a school-wide service project.
“All the schools had kids that donated,” said Lavery. “Families and neighbors donated, too. I even had three relatives that donated from California and Oregon.”
The 1,000 pounds of peanut butter was sorted at The Food Bank by volunteers from the Longmeadow Kids Care Club, to be distributed to their 250 partner agencies in time for the holiday season.
This is the second peanut butter & jelly drive that Lavery has organized. The first, which she conducted in October 2013 with the help of her parents, collected 247 pounds from Hatfield Elementary School and at the Greenfield’s home.
She was first inspired to organize a food drive after she and her family attended The Food Bank’s first ‘Family Volunteer Day’ during September 2013, and learned that 1 in 5 kids in Western Massachusetts are facing hunger. She brainstormed ideas with her mother, determined to figure out how she could help. She recalled that during their tour of The Food Bank, they also learned that peanut butter is one of the items most needed and requested by food pantries and meal sites throughout Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire Counties.
“It’s really awesome how she’s done it more than once,” says Jerod Shuford, Education Coordinator at The Food Bank. “When someone really takes the cause to heart, it makes a huge difference to us.”
From a cost perspective peanut butter and jelly drives are effective because these items can be expensive. It is a kid-friendly food that goes a long way. For families that are facing food insecure, peanut butter is an item that can yield many meals.
Lavery’s parents, Chris and Renée Greenfield, could not be more proud of the initiative their daughter took to help feed her neighbors in need.
“The Food Bank’s most precious clients are children,” says Renée. “When children help children, the hope is that this practice will continue through adulthood.”Comments Off
Cheney Orchards has donated 66,942 pounds of apples to The Food Bank this season, but it hasn’t functioned as a commercial orchard in over ten years. David Cheney shut down the orchard, which his grandfather started over 100 years ago in 1911, to retire in 2001. Despite still being a successful business, which at its height boasted 10,000 trees spread over 65 acres and two retail operations, Cheney stopped picking and selling apples. Cheney’s children all had careers so there was simply no one to take over. After ten years out of the apple business, Cheney was inspired by a newspaper article to reopen a portion of his orchard to give back to the community.
“I saw an article in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette about Community Harvest,” says Cheney, speaking of the North Grafton based non-profit which organizes volunteers to grow fresh produce for those who otherwise wouldn’t have access to it. “So I asked if they wanted some apples.”
Soon Community Harvest Project was sending volunteers to pick the apples that Cheney was once again growing. As Community Harvest is based in Central Massachusetts the apples were donated to the Worcester County Food Bank. The partnership was fruitful but Cheney hungered for more.
“I wanted to send some to Hampden County since that’s where we’re located,” says Cheney. “So last year I just sent some apples to The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.”
The apples Cheney sent to The Food Bank in 2013 totaled 24,000 pounds making the word “some” a bit of an understatement. This year, Cheney has worked with The Food Bank to organize volunteer groups with the plan of doubling that amount- the apples ultimate destination being The Food Bank’s Brown Bag: Food for Elders and Mobile Food Bank programs.
But before the apples reach our neighbors in need they must be picked, which is a truly enjoyable experience. Volunteers arrive at the base of a large hill. During the ride up they are treated to a fantastic view of the scenic orchard. If they are lucky they might even spot a blue heron or two in one of the ponds scattered about the rolling hills.
Upon reaching the orchard Cheney, or his daughter Susan, give some tips for effective picking and pass out half peck bags which hold about 16 medium sized apples. The volunteers then move down the lines of trees picking the branches clean of their ripe fruit. The trees are low enough that most of the picking can be done on foot, but every now and then a ladder is required. As the bags fill with apples they are collected into bushel boxes which quickly turn into large stacks. There are a lot more apples on a tree than you may expect.
Volunteer groups who have traveled to the orchard this year include Y.O.U. Inc., Mass Mutual, UMass Sustainable Agriculture students, Hyde Manufacturing, Saver’s Coop, the State Auditor’s Office, Ware Adult Learning Center and Country Bank. Around 100 volunteers visited the orchard in total, spending over 50 hours picking the thousands of apples. And that isn’t including the time that the Cheney family put in themselves, including David picking on his own which he did on many occasions. On the last picking day, David’s son rounded up a group of his realtor coworkers, and David’s wife Vickie got a group of her friends together, and along with the rest of the Cheney family they picked more than any other group this season – about 180 cases, or 7,200 pounds of apples.
Last season the orchard donated 34,947 pounds of apples. Combined with this season’s 66,942 pounds, that’s 101,889 pounds of apples, or 88,000 meals for Western Mass people in need that Cheney Orchard has provided this year.
“There’s a reason for the old expression ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away,’” says Lisa Limont, Food Sourcing Coordinator at The Food Bank, who organized the volunteer picking program with Cheney. “Apples are a nutritional powerhouse, with many direct and indirect health benefits. In the context of hunger and food insecurity, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect meal – easy to store, easy to eat and full of sweet juicy goodness. The Cheney family has done a good deed for The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts – 88,000 times!”
After this season, David plans to give retirement another go. He has no plans to sell his orchard but he has entertained the idea of finding someone to continue to run it. No matter what the future of the orchard holds, David Cheney can rest easy knowing that he put delicious fresh apples in the hands of thousands of his neighbors who needed them most.Comments Off