At least 12.5% of Western Massachusetts residents are living below the poverty line, and that number is growing.
The face of hunger may surprise you. Every day in every community across the United States, people experience hunger or “food insecurity”—broadly defined as not knowing where your next meal is coming from.
In Western Massachusetts, one in eight people—at least 200,000 region-wide—struggles to put a meal on the table or has to choose between paying for utilities or buying food. Many more may miss meals every now and then, or rely on alternative ways to get food they can’t purchase, like dumpster diving or visiting a meal site. Tens of thousands of families, elders and children in our region daily rely on emergency food assistance, such as community pantries or meal sites. Hunger can strike anyone, including working families, elders on limited incomes and people faced with a sudden illness or layoff.
Hunger is a chronic problem. Households are facing a widening “hardship gap”—the difference between a family-sustaining income and what is actually earned. In 2006, the Crittendon Women’s Union in Boston documented that a two-parent family with two children in western Massachusetts had to earn approximately $54,000 to cover basic expenses. Cost of living has undoubtedly increased since then, but two parents working at the new Massachusetts minimum wage still only make $33,280 a year.
Many services exist to help families, including SNAP, subsidized health insurance, housing assistance, and local food pantries and meal sites, but unfortunately they are often not enough. As we see more households falling through the “hardship gap”, The Food Bank is seeking new ways to reduce hunger in these challenging times.
Hunger may seem like a daunting problem, but it is solvable if people are given access to the food they need. There is plenty of food to go around; the bigger problem is making sure that it is available and affordable for those most disadvantaged in our communities.