At least 12.5% of Western Massachusetts residents are living below the poverty line, and that number is growing.
Hunger is not just about lack of food; it’s also about lack of nutritious food.
Families that experience or are at risk of hunger are also likely to be malnourished due to lack of access to nutritious foods such as lean meats, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. A lack of adequate transportation and grocery stores within walking distance, combined with an abundance of fast food restaurants and processed foods, has been shown to create “food deserts” in low-income areas, with a measurable negative impact on health and nutrition. These characteristics are highly correlated with increased rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, premature death, and other health problems.
Hunger and lack of nutritious food have long-term consequences for children, including increased rates of impaired cognitive and brain development, lowered immune response, short stature, and obesity. Similarly, studies show that malnourished elders experience two to twenty times more complications with hospitalization, have up to 100% longer hospital stays, and compile hospital costs $2,000 to $10,000 higher per stay.
In the United States, few people die from pure starvation. Rather, hunger and chronic food insecurity take their toll on lower income communities through diet-related diseases such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and other symptoms of malnutrition or unhealthy eating habits developed due to lack of access to other options or resources.
The Food Bank’s Nutrition program offers participating agencies a variety of approaches aimed at helping people develop healthier eating and shopping habits.
Taste tests and healthy recipes: Food Bank staff offer nutrition consultation at food pantries, meal sites, and Brown Bag programs during food distribution hours. When clients visit agencies for meals or groceries, they can also access resources including basic nutrition tips and healthy meal planning suggestions; taste healthy recipes prepared with food pantry ingredients; and get recipes for how to combine these ingredients with more whole grains, lean proteins, vegetables, and spices.
Nutrition Education: Free workshops are offered to Food Bank member agencies and Brown Bag sites on basic nutrition and healthy eating. These workshops serve the staff of emergency food programs to guide them in offering better choices to their clients; help community members at emergency food sites provide more nutritious food to their families; and assist elders at our Brown Bag sites in fulfilling their unique dietary needs.
ServSafe: The Food Bank periodically offers ServSafe certification training courses to member agencies at a significantly discounted rate, to insure that staff at food preparation sites have received the required food safety training.
Nutrition Tips: “From the Food Bank Kitchen” articles are written bi-weekly and are included in the Food Bank’s NewsBites publication sent to all member agencies. These are also posted on our website and provide a great source for easy, healthy nutrition ideas and recipes. Click here to view the nutrition tips page.