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In 2005 and 2006, The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts launched an innovative community organizing project called Target:Hunger.  Located in two distinct communities—one urban and one rural—the project was slated to pilot different community-led and community-based initiatives to reduce hunger and increase food security over four years.  Over the next four years, The Food Bank worked with dozens of local partners and residents in Mason Square, Springfield, and North Berkshire County to implement new, sustainable, and measurable solutions to the problems of hunger and unequal access to nutritious foods in these communities.

Why Target:Hunger?

We need a new approach to addressing hunger. When food banks began in 1970s and early 1980s, they were seen as a temporary solution to hunger.  But as hunger rates have increased they have become a permanent part of the landscape.  At The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, in the last decade alone, we have seen a threefold increase in the amount of food we distribute for hunger relief.  So we began talking about what we can do, not just to relieve hunger today, but to eliminate it in the long term.  The Food Bank approached two western Massachusetts communities in which we thought a project like this would be successful. Our partners in Springfield and North Berkshire said “yes” – and Target:Hunger was born!

A study by Market Street Research of Mason Square, Springfield, and North Berkshire County in May, 2006, showed rates of hunger and food insecurity in our Target:Hunger communities that are significantly above the national average.

In the northern Berkshires (Adams, Cheshire, Clarksburg, Florida, North Adams, Savoy, and Williamstown), during the 12 months prior to the study,

  • 11% of households at times experienced moderate or severe hunger
  • Overall, 18.3% of households were food-insecure (with or without hunger)
  • More than 27% of the population lives at or below 185% of the federal poverty guideline

In Mason Square, Springfield, during the 12 months prior to the study,

  • 9.1% of households at times experienced moderate or severe hunger
  • Overall, 19.2% of households were food-insecure (with or without hunger)
  • More than 40% of the population lives at or below 185% of the federal poverty guideline

These communities are not unlike many others in western Massachusetts in the surprising degree to which many of their citizens struggle to put food on the table.  The Target:Hunger communities are snapshots of what is happening in many of our neighborhoods and towns, both in terms of their needs and their considerable strengths.

Our Approach

Our work is driven by the needs and interests of the community.  Our collaborations are implementing long-term solutions to hunger and food insecurity, including increasing access to affordable and healthy food, creating a sustainable food system that reaches people of lower incomes, connecting public resources to people in need of food assistance, and building community-wide networks to address the root causes of hunger.

Target:Hunger focused on working to build resources, capacity, and services while creating broad community-wide networks for long-term food security. Believing that hunger is preventable, more than two dozen local, regional, and statewide partners in Springfield and North Berkshire are collaborating to identify and put into action multi-tiered strategies to increase food security and access to healthy, affordable foods. Collaborators include social service agencies, farmers, students, communities of faith, government officials, statewide anti-hunger agencies and people personally affected by food insecurity. These collaboration put into place strong, community-driven programs that improved food access and have been sustained since Target:Hunger concluded in 2010 and 2011.

Target:Hunger’s core community plans included initiatives that:

  • Connected residents with local resources to help them increase their food security.
  • Increased enrollment in SNAP (Food Stamps) and other federal nutrition programs.
  • Provided community members and grassroots organizations with capacity-building opportunities.
  • Improved community infrastructure to increase access to culturally appropriate and nutritious food, through farmers’ markets and community gardens, as well as transportation links to grocery stores.
  • Advocated to create greater food security through food policy councils.
  • Initiated and support enterprises in food and agriculture, such as Community Supported Agriculture farms that provide affordable produce to low-income households.
  • Worked with schools and programs for children and youth to promote healthy eating and community food security through school gardens and food security curricula.
  • Offered skill-building courses in growing, cooking, and storing food, as well as in budgeting, nutrition, “smart” shopping, and community organizing.
  • Fostered community awareness of hunger, food insecurity, and community food security.

Download the Target:Hunger Final Report for a more in-depth look at the program’s accomplishments, successes, and lasting effects in the community.