Thirty communities in western Massachusetts have hunger rates that are six times higher than the statewide average.
This Thanksgiving, hundreds of students throughout Western Massachusetts turned their attention to families in our community that are struggling with food insecurity. After learning about the problem of hunger being faced by more than 135,000 individuals in our area, these motivated students took action to organize food and donation drives at their schools, in order to ensure that all family, friends and neighbors can enjoy a nutritious holiday meal this Thanksgiving.
Students of all ages worked with teachers and school administrators to organize food drives. Some began the drives as early as October, while others lasted only a couple of weeks. The results were outstanding, with over 1,700 pounds of food being collected.
The students at Sunderland Elementary School began their food drive on November 1, and continued for over two weeks, concluding on November 18. In that time, they managed to collect 505 lbs. of non-perishable food, including canned fruits & vegetables, stuffing, soup and beverages. The students delivered the food to The Food Bank the week before Thanksgiving, and received a tour to learn what The Food Bank does and how it supports the community.
Located in Hatfield, Smith Academy’s Community Service Club began their food drive in early October. On November 19, the students delivered an impressive 990 lbs. of canned and dry goods to us for distribution this holiday season. This was a new record for the school, beating their item total from the previous year by over 200 items.
Once the donations are received, our staff and volunteers sorted and packed the food items. It was then delivered and distributed to our regional member agencies, which includes meal sites, shelters, emergency food pantries and other feeding programs that provide the food directly to community members.
Food donations aren’t the only way that some schools supported The Food Bank. The seventh grade class at JFK Middle School in Northampton conducted a fund drive that began on October 30, and ran until November 20. Students spent part of Halloween fundraising door to door, trick-or-treat style. This year, the students raised a total of $1,071. This money will allow us to provide 3,213 meals to individuals throughout our community this holiday season.
Students from Northfield Mount Herman School in Gill, MA conducted a fund drive from Nov. 3–17. In that short time, they were able to raise $1,476. In addition, they visited us for a tour and volunteered their time, helping sort and package food to be distributed to member agencies for the holidays.
The Longmeadow Kids Care Club, a group made up of families from Longmeadow who want to teach their children the value of volunteer work and create fun group opportunities for them to serve others alongside their friends and families, recently volunteered their time. The group was comprised of fourteen people—5 adults and 9 children under the age of 14. They spent a Saturday morning bagging potatoes for distribution through our Brown Bags for Elders program and The Mobile Food Bank program. In approximately ninety minutes of work, the families managed to sort and package nearly 1,200 lbs. of potatoes.
Many other schools in the area have completed drives, or are still continuing their food and donation drives throughout the holidays, including 4-H Science Sleuth’s Club, Springfield College Residence Life Program, University of Massachusetts Isenburg School of Management, and Great Barrington Waldorf High School.
All of these contributions come at a time when they are needed more than ever before. Beginning on November 1, 47 million Americans saw their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits reduced. These cuts will result in an increased need for food assistance at emergency meal sites across the area that are already stretched meeting sustained high need in wake of the recession. There are still more to come which are certain to have a significant impact on local families facing food insecurity.Comments Off
by Andrew Morehouse, Executive Director at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Roaming Farm in South Deerfield, MA. The owners, Steve & Julie Chalfant, have supported The Food Bank for many years. Nearly six years ago, they started raising Scottish Highland beef cattle on their bucolic farm. This breed of cattle is a slow-growing breed, which is known for producing tender, flavorful meat. This year marks the first year that they are selling their natural pasture-raised beef. While visiting the farm, I bought some of their meat; and it is delicious.
More information about their farm, their cattle and their products can be found on their website www.roamingfarm.com. If you check out the site’s price list page, you’ll notice two “Good Deed Sampler Packs,” which not only provide you with outstanding local beef, but also help supply needed food to The Food Bank at the same time.
We’re very grateful for Steve and Julie for supporting The Food Bank’s mission and the most vulnerable members of our communities.Comments Off
With 231 registered participants, 38 teams, and 188 riders already collecting donations online, Will Bike 4 Food is gearing-up to meet our $50,000 goal! But we still need your help! It’s not too late to register for this amazing event!
We reached out to two of our fundraising leaders and here’s what they had to say:
David Levenstein – 100 meter rider
How long have you been riding?
I’ve been riding my whole life, but I’m pretty much an amateur for this kind of thing. Will Bike 4 Food is my first organized ride and the first time I’ve tried to ride a “century.” Riding reminds me of being a kid, only now it’s a bit harder.
Why have you decided to participate in Will Bike 4 Food?
I’ve been contributing to The Food Bank for years and now had a chance to combine some ambitious goals – both fund raising and riding.
To what do you attribute your fundraising success?
The generosity of family, friends and colleagues, the worthiness of the cause, and the noteworthy organization. Lots of people are excited to be a part of this ride!
Martin Markey, Ph.D. (Retired) – 100 meter rider
How long have you been riding?
I used to bike-commute to work 3 miles each way until I retired 3 years ago. I have been biking this distance for many years, instead of having a second car to cut down on air pollution.
Why have you decided to participate in Will Bike 4 Food?
Since retiring, I’ve gotten heavily into long distance riding – I plan to do the 100 mile ride this year. I’m raising funds for Food Bank of Western Mass because it does good work distributing healthy food to people in need.
To what do you attribute your fundraising success?
I have a large group of friends, many from church groups, who are interested in helping. I decided to use my love of cycling for a greater cause; to help the poor.
This year’s event will feature bike tune-ups from Sean Condin from Speed & Sprocket Cycle Works, well marked routes, water stops, and patrol vehicles keeping an eye on you throughout the day.
If your muscles are sore, get a complimentary chair massage from Jen, of Jen Eckard Massage and Yoga (Northampton).
Cyclists of all levels are encouraged to take a spin at one of our 10, 25, 50, or 100 mile routes through beautiful Pioneer Valley. Fundraising is well under way, but we still need YOU to reach our goal of $50,000. Join Will Bike 4 Food THIS WEEKEND, September 29th, and help provide 150,000 meals to neighbors in need.
It’s not too late to register!
In-kind Sponsors: Berkshire Brewing Co., Friendly’s, Whole Foods, New England Natural Bakers, Coca-Cola, Speed & Sprocket Cycle Works, Bistro Bus, Nicky D’s, Jen Eckard Massage, Tandem Bagel Company, Bread Euphoria, C&S Wholesale, and Cold Spring OrchardComments Off
One of the most startling facts about hunger in Western Massachusetts is that one out of every five individuals served by emergency food network of the The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts are children. Our organization puts great effort into reaching out to students and youth in the counties we operate in to help them learn about hunger issues and engage them to become a part of our work to bring an end to food insecurity in Western Mass.
The Food Bank has been proud to host a number of youth groups this summer who are dedicated to doing just that. In the month of July alone, the Food Bank hosted over 100 students of all ages, from as close as Springfield to as far away as Denmark, Peru and Pakistan. These groups toured The Food Bank, participated in educational activities, volunteered at our warehouse and organized food and fund drives. That time has added up to nearly 300 hours of volunteer time given to the Food Bank by youth in one month alone!
Youth from Saint Elizabeth’s Parish in Ludlow Massachusetts visited The Food Bank as part of their participation in Just 5 Days, a program that asks middle school students to donate five days of volunteering to make a difference in their community. And the students from Saint Elizabeth’s certainly did! In two days of volunteering they donated nearly 100 volunteer hours to The Food Bank, and sorted more than 4,000 lbs of fresh corn for distribution to our emergency food network in Western Massachusetts.
High School students from all across the world congregated at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst this summer to be part of their “Summer Fuel” program to help students build life experiences and prepare for college admissions. As part of their program, Summer Fuel participants visited The Food Bank to learn about hunger issues facing Americans across the country, and how the national network of more than 200 Food Banks work to provide emergency food relief to millions of Americans.
Students participated in educational seminars at The Food Bank, toured our warehouse, visited a local Community Supported Agriculture farm that donates thousands of pounds of fresh produce to us each year, and of course spent time volunteering. Overall, Summer Fuel students spent five days working with The Food Bank of Western Mass. and donated over 80 hours of volunteer work.
This year The Food Bank was again honored to host the Pakistani Youth Leaders group visiting America through the University of Massachusetts Civic Initiative. Over 30 college-age students from Pakistan visited The Food Bank to learn about how Americans are working to end hunger. The students spent a day volunteering, touring The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and even had the opportunity to taste test local fresh fruits and berries. The students also participated in a fascinating discussion with our Executive Director Andrew Morehouse about the politics and policies around food insecurity in America. After their visit the students were so motivated they decided to host a Food Drive to benefit The Food Bank of Western Mass. and collected more than 350 lbs of non-perishable food! Everyone who had the chance to work with them were inspired by these students dedication and passion to fight hunger all over the world. We were also impressed by their creativity in the collection boxes they delivered their donations in!
Our staff here at The Food Bank are incredibly grateful to these groups, and many more that have visited us this summer. With the amount of food our organization moves through our warehouse each year (on track for well over 7 million pounds this year) we simply could not operate without the tireless work of volunteers. Seeing the passion and dedication of youth who will be shaping the Food Policies of not just America, but the world in the decades to come is truly inspiring, and gives us hope that our goal to end hunger is an attainable one.Comments Off
To carry out our mission, The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts relies on more than 300 volunteers to sort food, stock the warehouse, hand out brown bags, help people sign up for SNAP, staff events, and help around the office. Last week, we hosted an ice cream social to honor the generous and hard-working individuals who devote their time to the fight to end hunger.
Please enjoy these photos from the event.Comments Off
by James Barden, SNAP Outreach Coordinator
May is Older Americans Month. As we celebrate our elders’ contributions to our country, we also reflect on the harsh reality that many seniors are struggling to put food on the table. There are resources available, but only one-third of Massachusetts seniors eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) receive benefits, according to the National Council on Aging.
The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts is trying to change that.
In January 2013, The Food Bank was awarded a grant from the Walmart Foundation and Feeding America to expand SNAP outreach to underserved populations, especially seniors. SNAP can give income-eligible seniors (60 and older) a considerable boost to their often limited budgets.
Seniors, in particular, benefit from being enrolled in SNAP. Many elders without SNAP are making tough choices about whether they should spend their money on food or prescriptions. SNAP helps alleviate the need to make those kinds of decisions. Many seniors don’t realize that they’re eligible or might feel that they’re taking money away from another family by receiving benefits. SNAP is designed to expand when times are tough and contract when the economy improves; anyone who meets the eligibility guidelines can receive benefits.
The Food Bank staff and volunteers provides support to discover if elders are eligible and document their medical expenses correctly in order to achieve the highest deduction.
Many seniors recall the days when food stamps were issued as coupons, marking them in line at the grocery store. Currently, SNAP benefits are distributed using Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards. It’s hard to tell if a customer is buying groceries using their credit card, debit card, or EBT card. This anonymity at the cash register goes a long way in helping to reduce stigma around this program.
The Food Bank’s SNAP Outreach department offers application assistance and case management over the phone and in person, at a variety of pantries, Brown Bag distribution sites, meal-sites, and other partner organizations throughout the four counties of Western Mass. The Food Bank also has a team of dedicated community volunteers who donate their time to help their neighbors apply for SNAP benefits.
If you’re interested in finding out more about eligibility for SNAP, call The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts at 1-800-247-9632 to be prescreened for eligibility and to apply over the phone.Comments Off
Marina Caputo from Worthington decided she wanted to do more to help her neighbors in need. After hearing about local hunger, she pledged to collect one ton of peanut butter to donate to The Food Bank of Western Mass.
Marina’s choice of food is an excellent one; peanut butter is one of The Food Bank’s most-needed foods because of its popularity among our 300 member agencies. It is shelf stable, high in protein, and kids like it.
The timing of this drive couldn’t be better. Marina hopes to reach her goal by the end of June, just in time for summer. This time of year is especially difficult for food insecure families with children who no longer receive free school meals. The peanut butter will be a welcome sight on pantry shelves. The price of this product has also skyrocketed recently. During one quarter last year, the cost of peanut butter went up 60 percent.
If you’re interested in donating to Marina’s peanut butter drive, you can drop off peanut butter at one of the following locations: Corners Grocery in Worthington, Williamsburg Market in Williamsburg, Whole Foods in Hadley, and Tanya’s Salon in Worthington. Help Marina reach her goal!
To recognize the hard-work and acknowledge the accomplishments of out hard-working and dedicated staff, The Food Bank will recognize staff members in a series of profiles.
By Christine Dutton, Food Bank HR Manager
How long have you been with the Food Bank?: I’ve been with The Food Bank for almost 5 ½ years.
Tell us about your work at The Food Bank: As the Volunteer & Development Coordinator, the primary focus of my position is to work with individual volunteers, both in recruitment and placement. I work with staff to find additional ways for volunteers to get involved. I also facilitate a volunteer orientation twice-a-month. These orientations are really great because, in addition to sharing volunteer needs, we also teach people about The Food Bank and hunger in Western Massachusetts.
I also work with community groups and civic organizations to schedule group volunteer opportunities, and help coordinate food drives.
I currently chair the organization’s Diversity Committee, and in the past have served on both the Staff Recognition and Wellness Committees.
What do you like best about Coordinating Volunteers: I love hearing about what volunteers did before they came to The Food Bank – there are so many interesting people involved – or the others ways they’re supporting the community. And most of our volunteers are not just volunteering here. They are lovely people to work with!
What are some of the exciting things happening with volunteers: Many of our volunteers are currently working on the 2014 Hunger Study. This is a big project, with over 60 volunteers participating. These volunteers go to emergency food providers and collect data from individual participants about their personal experiences with hunger.
We’ll be hosting an ice cream social here at The Food Bank for all of our volunteers on May 30th. It’s our way to thank everyone for their help, from the regular volunteers who sort donations day-to-day, to those who help with the occasional event. It’s a great way to recognize our volunteers for their dedication and support, and to also get them to meet other volunteers they wouldn’t necessarily work with.
What is your favorite story about Volunteers: We have some volunteers who help with just about any need we have; they’re very dedicated. Last summer, one such volunteer responded to a later afternoon email for help with Brown Bag distribution the following morning. I didn’t think we’d get anyone, and just a few minutes after the email had gone out, I had someone to fill-in. I am always so impressed by the level of dedication our volunteers show.
Could you share a little bit about yourself? What do you like to do in addition to coordinating volunteers? Well, I love music. My musical taste runs the gamut and is super-eclectic. I think I was born a few decades too late. I like a lot of older bands-the “Oldies”. I also love to read-I love a good short story and enjoy music biographies. And, I really like lifting weights. I’m a member at Pioneer Valley CrossFit in Hadley, and am proud that I can Deadlift 195 pounds for 5 reps. I also really like to laugh and make people laugh. I’m okay with looking silly.
Any departing food for thought?: It’s nice to work somewhere where the community really supports the organization. We are very lucky to have so much commitment from people in Western Mass.
If you’d like to contact Erin and become a volunteer, sign up for an upcoming volunteer orientation.Comments Off
For asparagus lovers Spring is the greatest season of them all. For health-minded eaters asparagus is a very low calorie vegetable. 100 g fresh spears give only 20 calories. More calories will be burnt to digest than gained, the fact, which fits into the category of low calorie or negative-calorie vegetables.
20 oz fresh asparagus
1 cup shell-shaped pasta
1/2 cup chopped carrots
2 oz sliced bell peppers
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp celery seeds
1/3 cup light Italian salad dressing
Nutrition Facts: 130 calories, 2g fat, 160mg sodium, 24g total carbohydrates, 6g protein. Contains 70% of the recommended daily value of Vitamin A.
Source: WIC Nutrition Program
With increased demand for emergency food from a growing community, the staff and Volunteers at the Easthampton Community Center are not short of things to do. But that didn’t stop Executive Director Robin Bialecki, who saw a growing need in her community and the clients that ECC’s food pantry serves. “Over the last year we have seen an upsurge of people needing gluten free foods. Upon speaking to several nutritionists and doctors in the area, I discovered that for many low income families it is impossible to get all of the foods needed for their family,” Bialecki said.
The ECC Gluten-Free pantry opened officially on March 4th, and it is the first and only gluten-free pantry in Western Mass., a fact not lost on Bialecki. “We have opened the gluten free pantry to all of Western Mass. that we can reach. We currently have clients from Easthampton, Southampton, Westfield, Chicopee, Holyoke, Amherst, and Springfield,” she said. The gluten-free pantry serves 40 clients who are allowed to come on an as needed weekly or monthly basis.
Bialecki says the biggest challenge has been keeping up with the higher cost of the gluten-free product. “The more people we reach the greater the need will be to purchase more food, and even at a wholesale price the food is expensive.” “A few of the [gluten-free] companies I am working with in Colorado and Ohio are asking other companies to help out and make donations whenever possible as well. The Gluten Free companies are very serious about helping those in need and have been very supportive,” she added.
In the just over 3 weeks since its opening the pantry has been featured on 22News WWLP, the Daily Hampshire Gazette, and WFCR. “Area medical offices are excited and have been sending clients to us for help,” Bialecki said.
If you would like to learn more about the ECC gluten-free pantry visit them on Facebook, or call 413-527-5240.