In some towns in our region, one in every three children lives in a family that struggles to put food on the table.
by Diane Alpern RD, LDN, Food Bank Nutrition Coordinator
In a recent government study, it was reported that researchers found that obesity among children ages 2 to 5 decreased to 8%, from 14% a decade ago. More broadly, health officials last year reported slight drops in obesity for low-income preschoolers in 18 states.
Obesity rates are typically higher amongst lower income populations because there are constant struggles between buying healthy food, paying utility bills, obtaining secure housing and the cost of health care. When it comes to food, the focus will tend to be on obtaining adequate calories so they won’t feel hungry. However, many of these diets of processed foods are high in fat, sugar and salt. Unfortunately, children often bear the brunt of a diet lacking fruits and vegetables, and filled with refined carbohydrates, processed foods, saturated fats and sugary snacks. This predisposes them to becoming overweight and developing chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease at a very early age.
The Nutrition team at The Food Bank conducts free nutrition outreach to staff and participants of our partner agencies throughout Western Massachusetts to teach their clients that it doesn’t have to cost more money to eat healthy foods. We lead workshops at after-school programs for children, teens and mothers of young children. In these workshops, children participate in creating a tasty meal or snack, and share their new ideas and skills with their parents. By helping the head of a household learn how to provide healthier foods to their children at no higher cost, we are able to positively impact the quality of children’s diets. We are passionate about teaching children to eat healthier and reduce their risk of developing obesity and its associated health risks.
We also conduct extended nutrition workshops, which are free of charge, to target the concerns of each organization’s clientele:
The Food Bank is committed to strengthening our network of emergency meal sites and leading the community, as we work together to put an end to hunger. If you or your organization would like to learn more about these services that we offer, or would like to schedule one of our programs, please contact our Nutrition Department at (413) 247-9738.Comments Off
by Andrew Morehouse, Executive Director
Recently, I had the good fortune of participating in a two-day intensive “Undoing Racism” workshop hosted by a local group of the same name — the Undoing Racism Organizing Collective (UROC). I’d like to share with you some of my reflection on the workshop, and why this topic is important to The Food Bank and should be to everyone in Western Massachusetts.
UROC is a little-known unsung hero in our region that has been working on this intractable societal issue for about two decades. With support from Bay State Health, they invited the nationally-renowned People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB) to lead the workshop for more than forty local individuals mainly from non-profit businesses, but also some representatives from government and for-profit businesses, including a couple of farmers.
Since its founding in 1980, PISAB has impacted the lives of more than 500,000 people to “help individuals, communities, organizations and institutions move beyond addressing the symptoms of racism to undoing the causes of racism so as to create a more just and equitable society.” I felt that they facilitated the workshop in a sensitive and nurturing, yet direct and unapologetic manner, emphasizing that every participant came with a different life experience and perspective that warranted tolerance and respect.
While it would take a long time for me to explain everything I experienced and learned in the workshop, I would like to share the most meaningful benefit I got out of it. I was able to meet so many interesting and committed individuals who are doing important work to provide resources to, and create opportunities for, vulnerable individuals and families in our region. Going into the workshop, I knew that racism endures in our society even if we — individuals of all skin colors — personally reject it and even work to reverse it in our own way. The workshop discussion unpacked the reality that “mainstream” American society affords privileges and opportunities (if not power) to white people like myself whether we are comfortable admitting and accepting it or not. Conversely, people of color routinely experience disadvantages in our schools, the workplace, in our economy and even our political system even when there are laws, rules and efforts to prevent this from happening. We simply haven’t achieved equal opportunity in this country regardless of skin color.
This is certainly true when it comes to access to nutritious food. People of color are disproportionately at risk of hunger and/or food insecurity—not knowing where your next meal will come from—in Western Massachusetts and across the country. (That said, the majority of people who experience both are still white given the larger size of the white population regionally and nationally.) There are many reasons why people of color are more likely to go hungry than white people. One reason that we hear a lot about these days is the preponderance of “food deserts” in communities of color where costlier and less healthy food is abundant relative to more nutritious and often less costly food. Other reasons include the lack of equal opportunity generally in our society and higher rates of poverty and working poverty in communities of color.
When I think about Western Massachusetts and, specifically, the communities that we work with at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, I am struck by the diversity across our region. Of course, we can define diversity in many ways… not only race, but also ethnicity, country of origin, income, gender, age, sexual orientation, religious background, etc.
All of these aspects of diversity are important to us at The Food Bank because we work closely with so many diverse individuals from the more than 300 member agencies in cities and town across all four counties of our region. We make emergency food available to more than 44,000 people every month through an elaborate network of local, non-profit feeding programs who are members of The Food Bank. We also work with thousands of food and fund donors, and volunteers to carry out our mission to feed our neighbors in need and lead the community to end hunger.
For this reason, we undertook a year-long diversity assessment at The Food Bank about a year ago. Since then, we’ve gone through a strategic planning process in which, among other things, we re-affirmed our organizational values, including diversity and inclusiveness:
Along with me, two other staff has participated in the UROC workshop. We will share some of our learning with our colleagues as we continuously deepen our understanding of diversity and consciously take steps to live our organizational values. I challenge you to do the same. The UROC workshop is a great place to start.Comments Off
The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts is proud to announce that, in January, we were inducted into the Feeding America Advocacy Hall of Fame. We are part of an elite group as only one of twelve food banks in the nation to be included. As a new member of the Hall of Fame, we will have our name engraved on a plaque to be featured at Feeding America’s Washington, DC office.
Feeding America is a national hunger relief agency, which works to feed our country’s food insecure individuals through its network of member food banks. In addition to distributing food and grocery products through its member agencies to where they are needed most, they also aim to engage the country in the fight to end hunger. They make it their priority to bring issues of hunger to the forefront and engage and empower the public to work towards developing a solution.
To be considered for the Feeding America Advocacy Hall of Fame, The Food Bank had to meet a variety of criteria and complete several advocacy projects throughout the year. It was necessary to demonstrate leadership through contacting members of congress, engaging the local media on policy issues and educate & mobilize local organizations about policy issues. We exceeded many of the criteria, by accomplishing such goals as:
Looking ahead, The Food Bank plans to continue leading the community in advocating for hunger relief in Western Massachusetts. We recently completed a series of advocacy training workshops throughout the month of January for our partner agencies in the emergency food network. These were designed to provide resources and tools for agencies to engage their clients and help empower them to effectively communicate with legislators and their staff concerning issues surrounding hunger. Attending the workshops were a number of legislators (and/or their staff) representing the four counties of Western Massachusetts, including Sen. Benjamin Downing, Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, Rep. Paul Mark, Rep. Peter Kocot, and Sen. James Welch. They discussed the importance of constituents advocating on their own behalf and the role that feedback from voters in their district plays in their work.Comments Off
On Monday, December 23, many families took a break from last-minute Christmas shopping to spend time at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts’ first Holiday Family Volunteer Day at our warehouse in Hatfield. More than 55 people volunteered their time to help sort non-perishable food and fresh produce to be distributed to food pantries and emergency meal sites throughout our region this holiday season.
The multi-generational event was organized by The Food Bank’s Education Coordinator Jerod Shuford and Volunteer Coordinator Erin Sullivan. They promoted the event by posting it in the Hilltown Families newsletter, as well as directly contacting families which previously volunteered at The Food Bank. The response they received was overwhelming, with volunteer slots reaching its maximum capacity in just a few short days.
There were two groups that came in for the event—the first in the morning, and the second in the afternoon. Each group was comprised of approximately 27 people, ranging from kindergarteners to senior citizens. They spent three hours sorting, organizing and packing food that was collected from food drives, donated by Walmart or delivered from Plainville Farms in Hadley. As the younger kids grew tired from all of their hard work, they were able to take a break and spend time coloring and decorating grocery bags to be used to deliver food to local area seniors who participate in our Brown Bag for Elders program, one of the region’s largest feeding programs.
The volunteers were from all parts of Western Massachusetts, including Amherst, South Hadley, Northampton and Williamsburg. One of the volunteers was in town from Clearwater, FL, visiting her daughter for the holidays. The two of them, along with her granddaughter, came to the afternoon session to spend time together and help others in the community.
“With all the kids being off from school this week, it provided a great opportunity for families to come in and participate in an activity that will help put food on someone’s table this Christmas,” explains Jerod Shuford. “We received a lot of positive feedback from all of our volunteers and anticipate seeing a lot of them back here again for other family volunteer days.”
For more information about how you can become a volunteer at The Food Bank, or to see the upcoming schedule of volunteer events, visit our volunteer page.
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.
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