At least 12.5% of Western Massachusetts residents are living below the poverty line, and that number is growing.
By Sean Condon of Speed & Sprocket
This month marked the beginning of another exciting Tour de France. While the peloton has team cars following behind them with food, tools, tubes, and team staff to help when they get in trouble, we usually aren’t so lucky. In my last column I discussed what you should wear while riding. Today I’m going to talk a bit about what you should be carrying with you when you head out on the road to train for this year’s Will Bike 4 Food.
In my seat bag (or in your jersey pockets):
In my jersey pockets:
On my wrist:
On my bike:
Even if you don’t know how to use everything that you pack, there’s a chance someone you are riding with, or someone who passes you, will know and be able to help. Don’t be caught unprepared. Always make sure you have everything you may need before hitting the road.
By Andrew Morehouse, Executive Director
By now, you’ve probably heard the national news about a public school kitchen manager in Colorado who was fired for giving a free lunch to a crying first grader who was hungry. The manager was fired because the child wasn’t officially qualified for the federally-subsidized lunch program. However, what you may not have heard is that, right now, thousands of kids in schools across Western Massachusetts are in this same situation. They are relying on cafeteria staff, teachers and even their classmates to feed them because they don’t have enough food at home.
While it’s hard to believe that this could happen here, I hear stories like this all the time. Just last week a concerned Amherst parent shared this with me:
My daughter is providing snacks to her fellow students with food insecurity issues. I am VERY proud of my daughter who has the biggest heart and is trying to take care of her peers. But, what is very unsettling is that there are several students at the Amherst Middle School (ARMS) who cannot get enough food to eat — even if they are entitled to free breakfasts and lunches. I know this problem is not only at ARMS. This is not a new problem. I was made aware of the problem at the Pelham Elementary School when one of the teachers mentioned that many teachers need to provide snacks (at the teachers’ personal expense) for children in their classes due to food insecurity in their homes.
With so many families struggling with free or reduced school meals, imagine the challenges they face in the summer when those meals disappear. June, July and August are, by far, the busiest months for the 231 local feeding programs in our four-county region that receive most of their food from The Food Bank. Help us provide healthy food to our neighbors in need.
Approximately 44,665 individuals, including children, received food and averted hunger, during those three months last year. That’s nearly a 45% increase over the winter months of December, January and February.
The Food Bank and our region’s network of local feeding programs are ramping up to distribute more healthy food to these households this summer, providing critical relief to thousands. Through our Mobile Food Bank, we will distribute food (including fresh local produce) directly to households with children in neighborhoods in our region with the highest levels of food insecurity. In the last 12 months, we have fed an average of 2,143 children every month at ten distribution sites in Hampden, Hampshire and Berkshire counties.
None of this is possible without you. Please consider a gift today. Together, we can ensure that children in our region can look forward to a summer filled with picnics, swimming, and baseball — not hunger.
By Sean Condon of Speed & Sprocket
Warm summer weather means plenty of opportunities to get outside and ride. To maximize your comfort, make sure to wear appropriate clothing while you train for Will Bike 4 Food. While standard issue athletic shorts and a t-shirt are fine for a few leisurely miles, there are many cycling-specific options that will make longer rides more enjoyable for you.
I know what many of you are thinking: “There’s absolutely no way you are going to get me into a pair of lycra shorts, even if my life depends on it!” Before I try to convince you, or give some other options, let’s talk about why. For many of us, skin tight clothing isn’t all that flattering. However, it is designed that way for a reason. The close compression fit provides support to your muscles, avoids fabric getting caught on the tip of your saddle, and ensures that the pad in the seat area stays where it is supposed to be.
If sporting visible lycra is a fashion faux pas for you, consider an undershort that you wear under your regular athletic shorts — something like Bellwether’s Premium Undershorts. Or, you can also buy normal looking shorts with a liner that provides the same comfort, such as their Ultralight Shorts. There are many brands out there who make these styles (Bellwether is just one example). And just like with any article of clothing, different brands will fit differently. Don’t be afraid to try on a few to find the pair that fits best. And remember — you do not wear underwear under padded bike shorts. Doing so can chafe your skin and make you rather uncomfortable.
At the very least, you want to consider wearing an athletic, sweat wicking, non-cotton top. Cotton is very uncomfortable when wet which is the last thing you want on a long ride. Modern wicking fabrics are magical and will help keep you drier as well as cooler.
If you want to up your game a step, look into some cycling jerseys. Contrary to popular belief, they DO NOT have to be skin tight. Many brands make different fits that you can try based on your build. Cycling jerseys are constructed using lightweight wicking material and are constructed with pockets built into the back that are really handy for carrying a plethora of stuff.
Riding on flat pedals with normal athletic sneakers is perfectly fine. Another great option is toe traps with straps that you can cinch down over your forefoot, which help keep your feet from sliding off the pedals.
While toe clip pedals do a better job of keeping your feet on your pedals, clipless pedals also provide the additional advantage of applying more power through your pedal strokes.
Keep these basics in mind when you are deciding what to wear for your next ride. As always, send any questions my way. My next column will cover what you should carry with you when you head out on the road. Until then, keep getting those miles in on your bike!Comments Off
By Abby Getman, Planning and Advocacy Coordinator
Since 1982, The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts has been supplying emergency food to our neighbors in need through our network of member agencies, which includes pantries, shelters and meal sites. Last year alone, we distributed enough food to provide more than 7.5 million meals. In addition, we are contracted by the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) to conduct Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) outreach throughout the four counties of Western Mass. We assist food insecure households to apply for the program and help gather all of the necessary documentation in order to receive benefits.
When the Commonwealth instituted a new business process redesign for SNAP in October of 2014 without proper testing and training, the program immediately began to fail. Not only have we seen people being denied benefits they are eligible for, but member agencies are also reporting a marked increase in individuals seeking emergency food. The correlation could not be clearer for those working to end hunger in the Massachusetts. The Food Bank has been working tirelessly with state-wide partners, including the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, to draw attention to this crisis. We’ve been educating clients, member agencies, community partners, and our elected officials on the issue, and advocating for change.
We’re thankful to finally begin seeing the fruits of our many months of labor. In June, Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders proudly stated at an event in Holyoke, “You have my complete commitment that we will fix SNAP.” DTA Commissioner Jeff McCue (who has only been on the job since late April) is poised to take strong steps to address the issues, which he laid out at a separate meeting hosted by The Food Bank in mid-June. Looking at big changes for DTA, McCue seeks to bring back transparency and efficiency. As he stated in the meeting, there’s no one magical cure for these issues — it is a lot of little steps. Food Bank staff and advocates agree, and are cautiously optimistic that the tide is turning for SNAP this summer.
As the leader of the emergency food network in our region, The Food Bank hosts the Western Massachusetts SNAP Coalition. Our recent meetings have focused solely on the issues, sparking several news articles and motivating elected officials to ask questions as to why Massachusetts was failing its residents in need. Our weekly reporting to the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service has kept federal administrators abreast of the severity of the issues. State legislators on the Joint Ways & Means Committee demanded answers during a DTA hearing in the spring, and were an attentive audience when our Director of Programs, Christina Maxwell, testified on the crisis on Beacon Hill in April.
As we head into the summer, a time when food insecurity is at its highest, The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts will continue to work with DTA and state-wide advocates in creating solutions to this broken system. Access barriers are already starting to be removed, and small steps are being taken to correct the problems. After advocates weighed in with McCue in a May meeting, suggested changes were made to the DTA call-line within weeks. The Food Bank will continue our work to provide SNAP outreach to communities in need throughout our region. We anticipate many improvements to report on, after we hold the next Western Massachusetts SNAP Coalition Meeting in September.
To learn more about how you can lend your voice and bring positive change to our community, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you, or someone you know, is in need of assistance, call our SNAP outreach team at (413) 247-9738 for additional information.Comments Off
By Sean Condon of Speed & Sprocket
While Will Bike 4 Food on September 27 may seem far over the horizon, it will be here before we know it! Between now and then, I’ll be sharing some tips for improving your cycling skills to ensure that you’re confident and well prepared for the big day. The first tip I want to share with you is something that you should be doing each and every time you ride: the ABC Quick Check.
A = Air: While many people assume that flats are caused by nails or glass in the road, the truth is that many flats are caused by underinflated tires! Save yourself the misery of fixing a flat tire on the side of the road in the middle of a ride by simply making sure they are properly inflated before the ride. Make sure that both of your tires are inflated up to the recommended pressure listed on the sidewall of the tire. Tubes naturally lose air over time, even when they are brand new and in perfect condition. Use a floor pump (NOT a mini-pump) with a built in pressure gauge at least once a week, at a minimum. While you’re checking the pressure, look over the condition of your tires as well.
B = Brakes: Make sure that both of your brakes are properly connected and working, especially if you’ve taken a wheel off for transportation. As you are checking your brakes, make sure that the pads are not rubbing against the tire or going into the spokes. This is especially important if you start your ride heading down a steep hill (speaking from personal experience).
C = Chain, Cranks, and Cassette (the gears in back): These components, otherwise known as your drivetrain, are what make your bike “go.” If you truly love your bike, you should be keeping these clean and properly lubricated. As you get ready and start your ride, make sure all these bits are turning freely and (mostly) quietly. If they’re not, or if your chain is skipping around while pedaling, you should consider bringing it into the shop for adjustments or even a full tune-up.
Quick = Quick Releases: Most newer bikes come with quick release levers on the wheels for easy removal. Make sure that the levers are tightened with the “closed” side of the skewer facing you. If you see the word “open,” you’ve put the skewer on the wrong way! There is nothing worse than your bicycle becoming a unicycle while you’re riding it because of improperly attached wheels.
Check = Check Over: While you’re doing all of the above, keep your eyes and ears open for loose parts on your bike. If you have any doubts, bring it to a trusted bike mechanic for them to inspect!
Feel free to shoot questions my way at Sean@SpeedandSprocket.com. In upcoming segments I’ll talk about suggestions on what to wear while riding, what you should be carrying on your bike with you, and what you should be eating. In the meantime, get out on your bike and ride, after performing your ABC Quick Check, of course!Comments Off
Sean Condon, owner of Speed & Sprocket Cycle Works, will be joining our blog to offer bicycle maintenance and cycling tips leading up to the 5th Annual Will Bike 4 Food on Sunday, September 27.
Bicycle mechanic Sean Condon loves getting to know new people. For the past two years, his business, Speed & Sprocket Cycle Works, has sponsored Will Bike 4 Food. Each year he meets countless riders while making free pre-ride adjustments to their bikes before they hit the road. For Sean, being involved with WB4F is a way to give back, meet riders both new and experienced, and grow the cycling community in Western Massachusetts. His approach to bike maintenance makes getting your bike repaired a more personal experience.
A West Springfield native, Sean has spent most of his life in the Pioneer Valley. His first experience with cycling was in college when he began working in the cycling department of a sporting goods store. Despite having no prior cycling experience, he learned the ins-and-outs of repairing and riding bikes quickly. Soon he was mountain biking through the beautiful trails of Western Massachusetts. A move to Boston expanded his interest to road riding as Sean found it easier to get around the city by bike. He loved the challenge of going up hills, riding farther than he thought he could, and improving his speed.
Upon returning to Western Massachusetts, he wanted to share his passion for the sport and began volunteering at the Holyoke Urban Bike Shop (HUBS). HUBS is a program at the Holyoke YMCA which teaches bicycle maintenance. As part of the HUBS “Earn a Bike” program, Sean taught youth how to deconstruct and repair a bicycle. Once the student restored the bike to working condition it became theirs. It was while volunteering there that he met Liz, a fellow bike mechanic who worked at the Y. The two are now married and together founded Speed & Sprocket Cycle Works with the vision of a friendly, stress-free bicycle repair experience.
Speed & Sprocket is a mobile shop, which means they come to you, when it’s convenient for you, and make sure that your ride is in great shape on-the-spot. From tune-ups to minor repairs (such as shifting problems or installing new tires), they make sure your ride is road-ready without the worry of picking it up or dropping it off.
“While I enjoyed working in shops, I realized that model doesn’t work for all customers. I wanted to create something more personal and have a more one-on-one connection,” says Sean.
He first learned about WB4F during a visit to The Food Bank to volunteer with his daughter’s Girl Scout troop and inquired how he could get involved. Since then, he has helped riders prepare for take-off, and last year he even organized training rides leading up the event. Much like his maintenance workshops, leading training rides allows Sean to help riders empower themselves to do more.
“One of the riders who came to the training ride was planning on doing the 10-mile route,” explains Sean. ”But after he did the 15-mile training ride, he decided to work towards the 25-mile route. He pushed his boundaries of what he could do and surprised himself.”
Be sure to check back for helpful cycling tips and tricks from Sean every other week in our ‘In The Bank’ blog. And don’t forget to stop by Speed & Sprocket’s booth on September 27 at the 5th Annual Will Bike 4 Food to say hi to Sean, and get your bike one last tune-up.Comments Off
By Andrew Morehouse, Executive Director
I was very fortunate to participate recently in a two-day workshop on “racial healing.” Hosted by the Healing Racism Institute of Pioneer Valley, it’s “framework” states:
“Many in the Greater Springfield area believe that racism continues to afflict us and has an impact on our businesses, neighborhoods, schools and interpersonal relationships. A process that facilitates an understanding of the root causes and effects of racism, and the institutional nature of racism, will allow for the building of a better and more equitable community.”
You might be asking yourself: what does racism have to do with food banking? The fact is the emergency food network of local feeding programs — pantries, meal sites and shelters — has evolved over the past three decades in such a way that it cannot meet the needs of food insecure households equitably by county and, therefore, by race. The majority of people of color in our region live in Hampden County where the average food insecure household receives the least amount of emergency food compared to the same average household in any of the other three counties of Western Massachusetts (Berkshire, Franklin and Hampshire counties). Another way of saying it is that our network has unwittingly created unequal institutional access to emergency food by race.
Although there is a large number of feeding programs in Hampden County (77 in total), there simply is not enough local capacity to receive, store and distribute the same level of food for people in need as in other counties. Ultimately, more than half of all food at The Food Bank is distributed to Hampden County through these programs and our own direct delivery programs (Brown Bag: Food for Elders and Mobile Food Bank). Despite this, the food insecure population in Hampden County is far greater than in the three other counties.
Let me be clear — no one intentionally set up our region’s emergency food network with insufficient capacity in Hampden County. Local feeding programs, including faith-based pantries and meal sites, generally operate on very tight budgets and rely on tremendous volunteer support. It’s taken thousands of staff, volunteers and funders decades to build the incredible community network that we have today. In Hampden County, the resources needed to run a program (such as volunteers, reliable transportation, and financial support) tend to be harder to come by. At the same time, life for vulnerable and struggling households certainly got much harder with the onset of the Great Recession. For many, it hasn’t gotten much easier — particularly in Hampden County, where the population in poverty continues to climb.
What we believe matters is that we understand this geographic and racial inequity in our region’s emergency food network and that we must do something about it. We are committed to providing more meals more equitably to more people in need of food assistance. This means that everyone getting food in Western Massachusetts should receive the same amount, regardless of which county they live in.
In order to ensure equal access to healthy food across the region, we have begun to focus our resources on increasing the availability of emergency food in Hampden County. To accomplish this goal, we devoted a year to planning with our member agencies from all four counties. We worked closely with them to identify challenges facing the emergency food network. Together, we have developed a plan to equalize food distribution across Western Massachusetts over the next several years. We’re committed to this goal because everyone has a right to healthy food regardless of their circumstances.
Cam Nevin and Kayla Strom are heading from the classroom to the open road. On June 1st, the fresh University of Vermont (UVM) alumni will trade their caps and gowns for helmets and jerseys. They’ll be departing on a three month cycling trek to explore the country and raise awareness & funds for food insecurity.
Ever since they met two years ago in a yoga training course, Cam and Kayla have bonded over their shared appreciation for gardening, mindfulness, and healthy foods. As graduation drew closer, they knew they wanted to share an adventure on the road before settling into their future careers. However, they also wanted to avoid the negative environmental impact that comes with driving such a long trip. They agreed that seeing the country from the saddle of a bicycle was their best option.
The couple decided to organize their trip as a fundraiser to tap into their passion to end hunger and make a real difference in the lives of others. The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts was a natural choice to partner with for their ride. They estimate the cost of the trip will be approximately $5,000. Their goal is to raise double that, $10,000, to be able to donate $5,000 to The Food Bank. If they are able to reach their goal, Cam and Kayla will be providing 15,000 meals to our neighbors in need throughout Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire Counties.
Cam — who hails from Moretown, VT — studied Philosophy at UVM. No matter what career he pursues, he hopes to work to help others. Having led trips at Keewaydin Canoe Camp in Salisbury, VT for six years, he is no stranger to long, physically difficult journeys.
“Hunger is a simple yet devastating ill in this world,” says Cam. “We thought ‘why not start with food, a basic human need that should be accessible to all but unfortunately is not.’”
Growing up in Northampton, Kayla remembers cutting flowers and picking vegetables at The Food Bank Farm as a child. Although her family supports local and sustainable agriculture through CSA farm shares, Kayla’s passion for food systems really began when she took a course entitled World Food Population Development during her first year at college.
“We discussed all sorts of issues on a local and global scale,” says Kayla. “One that truly stuck was addressing the issue of hunger. Since my freshman year, I created a course load that encompasses this issue.”
Kayla went on to study Community and International Development with a focus on food systems, food justice and hunger. She has interned for the hunger relief project Campus Kitchens and conducted research for a more sustainable food system at UVM through the Real Food Challenge. She hopes to work for an organization that addresses food security in the future.
Departing from Northampton just two weeks after their graduation, they will travel west to Niagara Falls, around the southeastern edge of Lake Erie, south of Chicago, and then straight through the great plains of Iowa and Nebraska. They will then drop into Colorado before pedaling through Utah and Nevada on the way to their final destination of San Francisco. To complete the journey within their goal of less than three months, they will ride an average of 50 miles per day. By the end of their journey, they will have pedaled approximately 3,500 miles.
“We are very active, outdoors-oriented individuals, but we’ve never actually done long-distance touring before. This will be a grand part of the adventure,” says Cam. They have been cycling extensively to prepare for the ride. They know the trip will be challenging — both physically and mentally. But they have each other and know they’re riding for a noble cause.
You can contribute to Cam and Kayla’s fundraiser and follow along with updates from their trip. Visit their fundraising page at http://www.youcaring.com/other/kayla-and-cam-s-ride-for-hunger-relief/308229.Comments Off
By Andrew Morehouse, Executive Director
I had the pleasure of meeting a local hero the other day. I visited Wendy McCaul, Food Services Director at the Gateway Regional School District in Huntington. She’s been the director since 2001 and has worked there for the last 30 years. The School Nutrition Association of Massachusetts recently presented her with the “Food Service Director of the Year” award. This statewide achievement recognizes the extraordinary contributions of school nutrition directors who manage effective, fiscally sound school meal programs that provide healthy, appetizing meals to students.
“I took a job as a dishwasher in the Gateway Cafeteria 30 years ago while I was raising my kids and I’ve been here ever since,” explained Wendy. “My kids went to school here. I now have grandchildren who go to school here. I live a few minutes away. I love my job and my community.”
Unlike many other schools across the country, Gateway bucks the trend by running its cafeteria in-house, rather than outsourcing it to a for-profit food service vendor. Gateway Regional houses both the middle and high schools for seven rural hill towns, ranging in population from 521 to 2,180 residents (2010 U.S. Census).*
A very growing problem that looms in these hill towns is the presence of food insecurity. With a population of 8,893 people, approximately 751 individuals receive SNAP benefits (formerly food stamps). While not as concentrated and large as is urban centers, it’s still very real and serious for one out of about every 13 people in this seven-town school district.
Wendy explained that she’s seen food insecurity increase dramatically in the last 14 years at Gateway. In 2001, 24% of children were eligible for free and reduced meals based on household income. Last year, that percentage reached 34%. She sees hungry kids all the time.
Wendy and her team serve food to 600 children every day — 600 lunches and 90 breakfasts. Much like other schools, fewer children eat breakfast than lunch. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that buses often don’t arrive until after breakfast is over.
Wendy has a plan: “I’m trying to make breakfast more accessible for kids, especially the ones who don’t have enough food at home. This year, I’m hoping to start a grab and go breakfast in the hallways.”
She shared with me a story about a family that moved to the school district. Wendy’s daughter-in-law, an elementary school teacher, noticed the family’s two children in her classroom the very first day. Their clothes looked tattered so she asked them if they had lunch. The only food they had was Cheetos. She sent them to the cafeteria. Wendy and her staff learned that these kids were income-eligible for the free and reduced school meals program and made sure they were enrolled in it. They are very proactive about doing this because they understand that children need to be nourished in order to be attentive and learn in school.
Fortunately, Wendy is noticing changes in children’s and parents’ habits toward healthier eating. Many years ago — long before last year’s new federal school nutrition guidelines went into effect — she began shifting the school menu to include more nutritious ingredients, such as whole wheat. The new federal guidelines will also require reducing the high level of sodium in school meals beginning next year. Wendy is up for the task because she wants kids to eat healthy food. She knows how much some households rely on school meals for their kids.
*Blandford, Chester, Huntington, Middlefield, Montgomery, Russell, WorthingtonComments Off
Since the first Will Bike 4 Food event in 2011, close to 500 cyclists have pedaled towards ending hunger in Western Massachusetts. However, one rider – John Follet of Chesterfield – claims a very unique distinction. He is the only person to ride in all four WB4F events. His participation alone has made a real difference in the lives of our food insecure neighbors, providing close to 8,000 meals. Riding has made a difference in John’s own life, as well. Will Bike 4 Food offered the opportunity to not only rekindle an old friendship but also led to a cycling tour to remember on the other side of the globe.
John was drawn to WB4F because it was a fun way to support a cause he felt passionately about. As a 70-year-old lifelong cyclist he no longer yearns for a competitive atmosphere. He has ridden long tours, raced in competitions and even commuted by bike before he retired.
“I’m retired now. But I was a pediatric physician and I had patients who skipped meals,” explains John. “I know how important access to nutritious food is. I think food is an essential right.”
John knew that his involvement would help impact the lives of others in the community, what didn’t know was that it would bring him back together with an old friend. While fundraising for his second WB4F in 2012, he recognized one of the names on the list of riders: Betsy Evans. The two had become friends while their children were in school together in Western Massachusetts in the ‘70s. They lost touch when John and his family moved to Wisconsin, only to return to Massachusetts many years later. John reached out to Betsy and they made plans to ride the 50 mile route together at WB4F.
“It was really a special thing to have a long ride where you have hours together,” says Betsy. “You’re really hearing about each other’s lives and reflecting on them.” The two discussed what their children and grandchildren were up to and laughed about memories they shared years ago while riding past beautiful farmland and rolling hills.
“I love that route,” says Betsy. “I’ve lived in the area for almost 40 years and I go back to that route.”
As the two rode they were able to make new connections as well. John cites meeting other riders as one of his favorite parts of cycling. So when he spotted a young rider with a flat tire he took the opportunity to help. As John changed the tire he chatted with the rider and her friend. By the time they hit the road again, you would have thought he and the riders were best friends, says Betsy.
One of the many conversations John and Betsy began on that ride that they kept coming back to was how great cycling was as a vehicle to see the world. Betsy mentioned she had been thinking about planning a cycling trip abroad, and John shared that he had wanted to see Vietnam for years. Excited by the time they had spent together at Will Bike 4 Food, they gathered a group of family and friends and planned a cycling tour through Vietnam which Betsy describes as a life-changing experience.
Choosing to travel with a bicycle tour company, they rode with a tour guide allowing them to focus on the sights and local culture. The group rode around 150 miles in short sections, starting in the north in Hanoi and heading south towards the Mekong Delta. Every day there was new scenery to take in from vast rice fields to bustling open air markets to communal gardens farmed by locals to provide food to their villages. Just like at home, John enjoyed being able to stop and chat and found all of the locals to be friendly and welcoming.
“That ride at Will Bike 4 Food planted a seed of camaraderie that kept growing and growing,” says Betsy. “I don’t think our trip to Vietnam would have ever happened without that ride.”
John is now gearing up for his 5th Will Bike for Food and Betsy will be riding alongside him. Together they will enjoy the positive atmosphere and scenic views, and perhaps most importantly make new friends in the cycling community while giving back to the larger Western Mass. community.
“The connections keep multiplying,” says Betsy. “It’s like throwing a stone into a pond.”
Learn more about Will Bike 4 Food, and how you can get involved.Comments Off