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Why do people need food assistance?
Many people seek emergency food to get them through a short-term crisis: a layoff, a critical illness, or loss of home due to fire.  Others are unemployed and hungry with no way to buy food.

An increasing number are seeking food to fill in gaps their paychecks aren’t covering.  With 25% percent of U.S. workers making $8 an hour or less, many families are living from week to week, just on the edge of emergency.  As the job market has shifted from a steady manufacturing base to service jobs, the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union reports that the median household income in Massachusetts has fallen 10% since 1989.

What is "food insecurity"?
Food insecurity is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in two categories: food insecurity with hunger and without hunger.  Food insecurity with hunger is the experience of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.  Food insecurity without hunger is defined by reduced quality, variety, and desirability of diet.  Households that experience marginal food security may have anxiety over insufficient access to food or food shortages.

How does The Food Bank work?
The Food Bank rescues food that would otherwise go to waste and solicits food donations from a variety of other sources. We are also the regional distributor of USDA commodities and the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP).  In addition to distributing food, we are working with the community to develop strategies that will reduce the number of people in our area who must rely on emergency food. Each year, we provide 8.1 million pounds of food to our non-profit member agency partners across western Massachusetts.

child in boxWho receives food from The Food Bank?
Across the nation, the numbers of people facing "food insecurity"– those without an assured ability to acquire nutritious foods in socially acceptable ways– are growing.

In western Massachusetts, those in need are our own neighbors – senior citizens on fixed incomes, single parent families, the unemployed, and the working poor – who struggle to make ends meet.  They are young and old, in cities and small towns, living in families or alone.

The Food Bank, through its member agencies, provides food to more than 235,000 annually.  More than 27% of those served are children, and more than 13% are senior citizens. One-third of adults seeking food assistance have at least a high school diploma, and 36% of households have at least one working adult.  Nearly half of all people needing emergency food report having to choose between buying food and paying for utilities, heating fuel, rent, mortgage, or medical care.

Where is The Food Bank located and what area does it serve?
The Food Bank operates out of a 30,098-square-foot facility in Hatfield, MA.  Our service area includes Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire Counties.  We serve the largest geographic area of all the food banks in Massachusetts.

What kind of services does The Food Bank provide?
In addition to providing food that reaches the region’s population through our member agencies, we also reach thousands more with our food and nutrition-related programs:

  • Network Capacity Building – Working with our member agencies in all four counties of Western Massachusetts, Network Capacity Building aims to support agencies through trainings, resource identification, and networking activities.  By helping agencies run more efficiently, we can ensure more food reaches those experiencing food insecurity in our region.
  • Brown Bag: Food for Elders – This "pantry-on-wheels" provides a free monthly bag of groceries to more than 7,000 low-income elders at 91 sites in 51 communities. It is our longest-running program and the region’s direct-to-client feeding service.
  • Nutrition – We constantly improve the quality of the food we distribute through a nutritional inventory rating system. We offer capacity-building workshops focused on nutrition and smart shopping, and recipe demonstrations to help improve the current and long-term health of thousands of low-income community members.
  • SNAP Outreach – The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is a valuable federal resource that allows low-income households to use benefits to purchase food.  Applying for this benefit can be a daunting task, and applicants often need assistance.  At The Food Bank, we help folks identify if they qualify for SNAP, and aim to help them complete the most accurate and complete applications possible.
  • Door to Door Delivery – Our trucks are on the road daily, delivering nutritious perishable and shelf-stable foods directly to the doors of nearly 100 food pantries and shelters.
  • The Food Bank Farm – Our own 60-acre farm in Hadley harvests between 100,000 to 200,000 pounds of fresh produce each year for people in need.
  • Education – We educate the public about local and national hunger, especially through collaborations with schools and youth groups, and educational activities for the community.

What is the difference between The Food Bank and my local food pantry?
The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts is a regional organization that provides food to nearly every food pantry, shelter, meal site, or other food assistance service in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire Counties.  We are also the authorized distributor of food available through government programs like the US Department of Agriculture and the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP).  Unlike local food pantries and other feeding programs, The Food Bank does not distribute food directly to individuals, except through our Brown Bag: Food for Elders program.  Instead, we act as a regional clearinghouse to get nutritious food supplies to local sites that help people in need of assistance.  We also work on a regional and state-wide level to advocate for broader change that increases access to affordable, nutritious foods for everyone in our region.

How can I help?
You can make a financial contribution of any amount.  Your contribution makes a big difference to our ability to get food to people suffering with hunger.  Thanks to the size and efficiency of The Food Bank, each dollar contributed allows us to provide more than $9 worth of food to our 300 member agencies and people in need of food assistance.

You can volunteer in our warehouse or office. Hundreds of volunteers sort donated food in our warehouse, assist at Brown Bag sites, help plan events, and contribute their time and talents in a variety of ways.  Volunteers are critical to our ability to ensure that our neighbors have the food they need.

Sponsor a food drive at your workplace, school, or organization.  Food drives are a great way to learn about hunger in our region and get a group involved in making a difference.

The Food Bank believes that it is possible to end hunger, but it will take a significant amount of political will to change the factors in our current system that put people at risk of hunger and poverty.  Advocate against hunger by contacting your government representatives or getting involved in our efforts to support specific anti-hunger legislation.

If you are interested in learning more about hunger in our communities, a member of our staff would be happy to speak to your employees, civic group, or congregation, or provide a tour of our facility in Hatfield.  Call us with your ideas and suggestions for other ways you want to get involved!