Thirty communities in western Massachusetts have hunger rates that are six times higher than the statewide average.
by Andrew Morehouse, Executive Director at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts
This past weekend, I was literally “gearing up” for our Will Bike 4 Food annual charity cycling event taking place on Sept. 28th. Can you believe I’m training for my first-ever 100-mile ride? We’ll see how it goes! I rode the first 50-mile loop in the Hilltowns and was blown away by the beauty of our region that we’re so blessed to live in. I saw signature historic New England homes, idyllic businesses, bucolic working farms, stunning vistas, including gorgeous pastoral scenes, and even wildlife. I saw flocks of geese and turkeys, a hawk and a blue heron, and even three deer!
The hard work of cycling up hills paid off when I earned the privilege of swoopin’ down them. What a thrill! What more could anyone ask for…good exercise, connecting with the great outdoors right in your own back yard, a little time to be by yourself (for some spiritual reflection) and/or with close friends…and all for a great cause… to support The Food Bank’s mission to feed our neighbors in need and lead the community to end hunger.
I urge you to join us on Sept. 28th for this great event. Remember, there are routes for all abilities…10, 25, 50 and 100 miles. Visit our event page for all the details and learn how you can become involved.
And, of course, we’ll have music, scrumptious food and beer compliments of the Berkshire Brewing Co. (… for after your ride mind you). Check it out!Comments Off
On July 17, the “Just 5 Days” youth group from Saint Elizabeth Church in Ludlow visited The Food Bank. The students, comprised of middle school and rising high-schoolers, were part of a larger Western Massachusetts group that is taking part in a summer program which allows the students to travel for a week to different areas and participate in community service activities.
Some of the students worked together to write about their experience and what they learned from their visit:
Our experience at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts was an enlightening opportunity to learn about food insecurity—not only in Massachusetts, but throughout our country. We were each given a living scenario where we had to buy meals for our families with limited money, after paying all our expenses. This activity showed us real-life examples of families facing food insecurity every day. For example, a single mother with three children was left with a food budget of only $25 for the entire week, after paying her expenses.
We also realized that healthier food is more expensive, forcing us to resort to purchasing less healthy foods (such as Ramen Noodles and hot dogs). Foods like these do not provide substantial nutrition, which is essential for the health of all people—especially for the growth and development of children.
Completing this activity gave us a clearer understanding of how food insecure people live every day. It also made our volunteer work of packaging apples, squash and cucumbers more enjoyable and meaningful. We worked in assembly lines to package 3 pound bags of apples and 20 pound boxes of squash and cucumbers. All of the food went to local food programs for families in need of assistance.
Another eye-opening experience during our visit was taking a tour around The Food Bank. Seeing the large amount of food that is needed—rather than being told, or having to read a statistic—allowed us to truly realize the amount of people who are food insecure. We were also able to see how The Food Bank tries to distribute the best quality food by freezing vegetables (or, as one of the workers referred to it, processing through “the beauty pageant” of food).
One of the most inspiring things we saw was the contrast between those who were actually getting paid to do the work, and the vast amount of volunteers willing to work for the cause. We appreciate the great opportunity of touring The Food Bank, and our amazing tour guide.Comments Off
April is National Volunteer Month — a time that we celebrate the people who generously donate their time and talents to support their community.
Throughout the month, our dedicated volunteers will be sharing their experience with volunteering and reflect on how it has impacted their own lives.
Molly Crouser is the Civic Engagement Coordinator at Bay Path College in Longmeadow. She has brought two groups of students in since January, as part of the college’s program which teaches civic responsibility and citizenship through out-of-class activities with the community. The program is focused on raising students’ awareness of the impact they can have on individuals and the world around them.
As the AmeriCorps VISTA at Bay Path College, part of my work plan is to build, support and initiate service opportunities on campus. I initially contacted The Food Bank about volunteering because of their ability to hold a great amount of people for a day-long service event. I kept returning with more students because of the amazing work they do. At The Food Bank, my students have the ability to serve in a way that was meaningful for them and for the Food Bank. They are able to see the difference that their few hours of service are helpful to the organization. Through the educational pieces offered, they are able to learn about hunger and food justice in our region, a place where most of them call home. It is a significant experience for our college students and myself, and we are excited to continue volunteering for them.
Volunteering has made a huge impact on my life, in a very meaningful way. I find happiness in learning about social problems, and finding ways to solve the issues. My personal passions lay in food justice issues. So, being able to directly impact an organization that works to fight poverty through feeding the community is an amazing opportunity. I believe in a strong, vibrant and civically engaged community and volunteer work is my way of expressing that belief.
My favorite part of volunteering is the impact I make, and the influence it has on me. Through a symbiotic relationship, I feel as though volunteering provides me with a connection to my community and a stronger support system. The feeling of being part of something that is bigger than myself, while at the same time making a difference in someone else’s life is integral to my own values and beliefs.
For anyone who is considering volunteering, I would ask what are you passionate about and find a way to give back that is meaningful for you. Giving back time promotes civic responsibility, builds a professional network, helps build community resources and provides a space where people come together towards a common goal. Who wouldn’t want to? What’s stopping you?Comments Off
April is National Volunteer Month — a time that we celebrate the people who generously donate their time and talents to support their community. Throughout the month, our dedicated volunteers will be sharing their experience with volunteering and reflect on how it has impacted their own lives.
Matt Goldman, of Hatfield, has been volunteering at The Food Bank since 2013. Every Monday morning, he heads out to a number of Stop & Shop locations throughout Western Massachusetts, picking up donations for our “Retail Rescue” program. Along with fellow volunteer Ken, they have collected more than 30,000 lbs of quality meats and various frozen goods for the growing number people in our community struggling with food insecurity.
My wife and I had always discussed volunteering and giving back some sort of service to people in need. We live very close to The Food Bank, and in 2013, we decided to go to one of their volunteer orientations. We found everyone to be really friendly and flexible to what we were available to do for their cause.
As a self-employed individual, I am very busy throughout the week. However, there was an opportunity for me to assist in picking up frozen foods in nearby supermarkets. Once I started the volunteer service, I found it very gratifying. I felt that I received more in return just by giving a little time in some small way. Just knowing that I could actually do something “hands on” to help made me feel that I was making a big difference in helping feed hungry people (a basic human right).
I really enjoy spending time in the truck with the assigned driver, who is a great guy. We have created a very cooperative routine. We travel to several supermarkets throughout Western Massachusetts. The procedure requires physical labor, which I believe we both find enjoyable. Each store that we go to has its own personality (if you will), which makes it even more interesting. It’s always different, always fun and we help each other do the most efficient job we can.
Volunteering has been a wonderful way to start off my work week (my volunteer work is Monday mornings). When I’m through, I feel better about myself and the people around me. The other employees at the Food Bank are really friendly people and special in their own individual ways. It feels great knowing that everyone is there working—for whatever length of time—to make the world a better place. We are providing support to human beings that need to “survive” in a world that is getting tougher to survive in all the time.
If you have ever considered volunteering, I would recommend that you just go The Food Bank orientation. There is no pressure. There are no contracts to sign. There are no commitments. I believe if you find the time to give of yourself, you will find it a very special experience. If you add all the volunteer hours together, person by person, it makes a big difference. Just try it. Everyone is welcome!
April is National Volunteer Month — a time that we celebrate the people who generously donate their time and talents to support their community. The month also encompasses National Volunteer Week (beginning on April 6), which is about inspiring, recognizing and encouraging people to seek out imaginative ways to engage in their communities.
Throughout the month, our dedicated volunteers will be sharing their experience with volunteering and reflect on how it has impacted their own lives.
Catherine White, of Southampton, has been volunteering at The Food Bank since 2009. Because she works full-time during the day, she helps with many of our special events that take place on nights or weekends, including our biennial Gala and our annual Will Bike 4 Food event. She also assisted our staff with conducting interviews for the Hunger Study survey in 2009 and 2013.
I began volunteering at The Food Bank because I wanted to get involved in my community in a meaningful way. The Food Bank helps people in so many different ways through diverse activities. I knew that there would be many exciting opportunities to participate.
Throughout my time at The Food Bank, I have gained an even greater appreciation for just how important they are. It is a joy to be a part of it. The people that I have worked with are dynamic and driven and I always enjoy the volunteering experience. I think that the most enjoyable part is the satisfaction I get from being around people who are working for something greater than themselves.
It has also allowed me to learn a great deal about the community that I live in. I have become more aware of food insecurity and the many factors involved with it. I feel that I have gained a great deal of understanding that I try to apply to all aspects of my life.
Overall, volunteering is a rewarding and enriching experience. There are so many different opportunities that everyone can find ways to use what they know and are willing to do to positively contribute to their community. There are opportunities to fit any schedule and it is well worth it!Comments Off
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