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In The Bank

Posted on Friday, June 26th, 2015

Commissioner Jeff McCue discusses the DTA with Food Bank staff during a recent visit to our Hatfield warehouse

By Abby Getman, Planning and Advocacy Coordinator

Since 1982, The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts has been supplying emergency food to our neighbors in need through our network of member agencies, which includes pantries, shelters and meal sites. Last year alone, we distributed enough food to provide more than 7.5 million meals. In addition, we are contracted by the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) to conduct Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) outreach throughout the four counties of Western Mass. We assist food insecure households to apply for the program and help gather all of the necessary documentation in order to receive benefits.

When the Commonwealth instituted a new business process redesign for SNAP in October of 2014 without proper testing and training, the program immediately began to fail. Not only have we seen people being denied benefits they are eligible for, but member agencies are also reporting a marked increase in individuals seeking emergency food. The correlation could not be clearer for those working to end hunger in the Massachusetts. The Food Bank has been working tirelessly with state-wide partners, including the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, to draw attention to this crisis. We’ve been educating clients, member agencies, community partners, and our elected officials on the issue, and advocating for change.

We’re thankful to finally begin seeing the fruits of our many months of labor. In June, Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders proudly stated at an event in Holyoke, “You have my complete commitment that we will fix SNAP.” DTA Commissioner Jeff McCue (who has only been on the job since late April) is poised to take strong steps to address the issues, which he laid out at a separate meeting hosted by The Food Bank in mid-June. Looking at big changes for DTA, McCue seeks to bring back transparency and efficiency. As he stated in the meeting, there’s no one magical cure for these issues — it is a lot of little steps. Food Bank staff and advocates agree, and are cautiously optimistic that the tide is turning for SNAP this summer.

As the leader of the emergency food network in our region, The Food Bank hosts the Western Massachusetts SNAP Coalition. Our recent meetings have focused solely on the issues, sparking several news articles and motivating elected officials to ask questions as to why Massachusetts was failing its residents in need. Our weekly reporting to the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service has kept federal administrators abreast of the severity of the issues. State legislators on the Joint Ways & Means Committee demanded answers during a DTA hearing in the spring, and were an attentive audience when our Director of Programs, Christina Maxwell, testified on the crisis on Beacon Hill in April.

As we head into the summer, a time when food insecurity is at its highest, The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts will continue to work with DTA and state-wide advocates in creating solutions to this broken system. Access barriers are already starting to be removed, and small steps are being taken to correct the problems. After advocates weighed in with McCue in a May meeting, suggested changes were made to the DTA call-line within weeks. The Food Bank will continue our work to provide SNAP outreach to communities in need throughout our region. We anticipate many improvements to report on, after we hold the next Western Massachusetts SNAP Coalition Meeting in September.

To learn more about how you can lend your voice and bring positive change to our community, contact abbyg@foodbankwma.org.

If you, or someone you know, is in need of assistance, call our SNAP outreach team at (413) 247-9738 for additional information.

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Category : Blog
Posted on Thursday, June 18th, 2015

By Sean Condon of Speed & Sprocket

While Will Bike 4 Food on September 27 may seem far over the horizon, it will be here before we know it! Between now and then, I’ll be sharing some tips for improving your cycling skills to ensure that you’re confident and well prepared for the big day. The first tip I want to share with you is something that you should be doing each and every time you ride: the ABC Quick Check.


A = Air: While many people assume that flats are caused by nails or glass in the road, the truth is that many flats are caused by underinflated tires! Save yourself the misery of fixing a flat tire on the side of the road in the middle of a ride by simply making sure they are properly inflated before the ride. Make sure that both of your tires are inflated up to the recommended pressure listed on the sidewall of the tire. Tubes naturally lose air over time, even when they are brand new and in perfect condition. Use a floor pump (NOT a mini-pump) with a built in pressure gauge at least once a week, at a minimum. While you’re checking the pressure, look over the condition of your tires as well.


B = Brakes:  Make sure that both of your brakes are properly connected and working, especially if you’ve taken a wheel off for transportation. As you are checking your brakes, make sure that the pads are not rubbing against the tire or going into the spokes. This is especially important if you start your ride heading down a steep hill (speaking from personal experience).

 

 


C = Chain, Cranks, and Cassette (the gears in back): These components, otherwise known as your drivetrain, are what make your bike “go.” If you truly love your bike, you should be keeping these clean and properly lubricated. As you get ready and start your ride, make sure all these bits are turning freely and (mostly) quietly. If they’re not, or if your chain is skipping around while pedaling, you should consider bringing it into the shop for adjustments or even a full tune-up.

 


Quick = Quick Releases: Most newer bikes come with quick release levers on the wheels for easy removal. Make sure that the levers are tightened with the “closed” side of the skewer facing you. If you see the word “open,” you’ve put the skewer on the wrong way! There is nothing worse than your bicycle becoming a unicycle while you’re riding it because of improperly attached wheels.

Check = Check Over: While you’re doing all of the above, keep your eyes and ears open for loose parts on your bike. If you have any doubts, bring it to a trusted bike mechanic for them to inspect!

Feel free to shoot questions my way at Sean@SpeedandSprocket.com. In upcoming segments I’ll talk about suggestions on what to wear while riding, what you should be carrying on your bike with you, and what you should be eating. In the meantime, get out on your bike and ride, after performing your ABC Quick Check, of course!

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Category : Blog
Posted on Thursday, June 4th, 2015

Sean Condon (right) chats with a cyclist while tuning up his bike at Will Bike 4 Food 2014

Sean Condon, owner of Speed & Sprocket Cycle Works, will be joining our blog to offer bicycle maintenance and cycling tips leading up to the 5th Annual Will Bike 4 Food on Sunday, September 27.

Bicycle mechanic Sean Condon loves getting to know new people. For the past two years, his business, Speed & Sprocket Cycle Works, has sponsored Will Bike 4 Food. Each year he meets countless riders while making free pre-ride adjustments to their bikes before they hit the road. For Sean, being involved with WB4F is a way to give back, meet riders both new and experienced, and grow the cycling community in Western Massachusetts. His approach to bike maintenance makes getting your bike repaired a more personal experience.

A West Springfield native, Sean has spent most of his life in the Pioneer Valley. His first experience with cycling was in college when he began working in the cycling department of a sporting goods store. Despite having no prior cycling experience, he learned the ins-and-outs of repairing and riding bikes quickly. Soon he was mountain biking through the beautiful trails of Western Massachusetts. A move to Boston expanded his interest to road riding as Sean found it easier to get around the city by bike. He loved the challenge of going up hills, riding farther than he thought he could, and improving his speed.

Upon returning to Western Massachusetts, he wanted to share his passion for the sport and began volunteering at the Holyoke Urban Bike Shop (HUBS). HUBS is a program at the Holyoke YMCA which teaches bicycle maintenance. As part of the HUBS “Earn a Bike” program, Sean taught youth how to deconstruct and repair a bicycle. Once the student restored the bike to working condition it became theirs. It was while volunteering there that he met Liz, a fellow bike mechanic who worked at the Y. The two are now married and together founded Speed & Sprocket Cycle Works with the vision of a friendly, stress-free bicycle repair experience.

Speed & Sprocket is a mobile shop, which means they come to you, when it’s convenient for you, and make sure that your ride is in great shape on-the-spot. From tune-ups to minor repairs (such as shifting problems or installing new tires), they make sure your ride is road-ready without the worry of picking it up or dropping it off.

“While I enjoyed working in shops, I realized that model doesn’t work for all customers. I wanted to create something more personal and have a more one-on-one connection,” says Sean.

He first learned about WB4F during a visit to The Food Bank to volunteer with his daughter’s Girl Scout troop and inquired how he could get involved. Since then, he has helped riders prepare for take-off, and last year he even organized training rides leading up the event. Much like his maintenance workshops, leading training rides allows Sean to help riders empower themselves to do more.

“One of the riders who came to the training ride was planning on doing the 10-mile route,” explains Sean. ”But after he did the 15-mile training ride, he decided to work towards the 25-mile route. He pushed his boundaries of what he could do and surprised himself.”

Be sure to check back for helpful cycling tips and tricks from Sean every other week in our ‘In The Bank’ blog. And don’t forget to stop by Speed & Sprocket’s booth on September 27 at the 5th Annual Will Bike 4 Food to say hi to Sean, and get your bike one last tune-up.

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Category : Blog
Posted on Friday, May 29th, 2015

Our Mobile Food bank reaches the underserved populations throughout Western Massachusetts that don’t otherwise have access to fresh, healthy foods.

By Andrew Morehouse, Executive Director

I was very fortunate to participate recently in a two-day workshop on “racial healing.” Hosted by the Healing Racism Institute of Pioneer Valley, it’s “framework” states:

“Many in the Greater Springfield area believe that racism continues to afflict us and has an impact on our businesses, neighborhoods, schools and interpersonal relationships. A process that facilitates an understanding of the root causes and effects of racism, and the institutional nature of racism, will allow for the building of a better and more equitable community.”

You might be asking yourself: what does racism have to do with food banking? The fact is the emergency food network of local feeding programs — pantries, meal sites and shelters — has evolved over the past three decades in such a way that it cannot meet the needs of food insecure households equitably by county and, therefore, by race. The majority of people of color in our region live in Hampden County where the average food insecure household receives the least amount of emergency food compared to the same average household in any of the other three counties of Western Massachusetts (Berkshire, Franklin and Hampshire counties).  Another way of saying it is that our network has unwittingly created unequal institutional access to emergency food by race.

Although there is a large number of feeding programs in Hampden County (77 in total), there simply is not enough local capacity to receive, store and distribute the same level of food for people in need  as in other counties. Ultimately, more than half of all food at The Food Bank is distributed to Hampden County through these programs and our own direct delivery programs (Brown Bag: Food for Elders and Mobile Food Bank). Despite this, the food insecure population in Hampden County is far greater than in the three other counties.

Let me be clear — no one intentionally set up our region’s emergency food network with insufficient capacity in Hampden County.  Local feeding programs, including faith-based pantries and meal sites, generally operate on very tight budgets and rely on tremendous volunteer support. It’s taken thousands of staff, volunteers and funders decades to build the incredible community network that we have today. In Hampden County, the resources needed to run a program (such as volunteers, reliable transportation, and financial support) tend to be harder to come by. At the same time, life for vulnerable and struggling households certainly got much harder with the onset of the Great Recession. For many, it hasn’t gotten much easier — particularly in Hampden County, where the population in poverty continues to climb.

What we believe matters is that we understand this geographic and racial inequity in our region’s emergency food network and that we must do something about it. We are committed to providing more meals more equitably to more people in need of food assistance. This means that everyone getting food in Western Massachusetts should receive the same amount, regardless of which county they live in.

In order to ensure equal access to healthy food across the region, we have begun to focus our resources on increasing the availability of emergency food in Hampden County. To accomplish this goal, we devoted a year to planning with our member agencies from all four counties. We worked closely with them to identify challenges facing the emergency food network. Together, we have developed a plan to equalize food distribution across Western Massachusetts over the next several years. We’re committed to this goal because everyone has a right to healthy food regardless of their circumstances.

 

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Category : Blog
Posted on Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Cam Nevin and Kayla Strom will ride 3,500 miles from Massachusetts to California to fight hunger.

Cam Nevin and Kayla Strom are heading from the classroom to the open road. On June 1st, the fresh University of Vermont (UVM) alumni will trade their caps and gowns for helmets and jerseys. They’ll be departing on a three month cycling trek to explore the country and raise awareness & funds for food insecurity.

Ever since they met two years ago in a yoga training course, Cam and Kayla have bonded over their shared appreciation for gardening, mindfulness, and healthy foods. As graduation drew closer, they knew they wanted to share an adventure on the road before settling into their future careers. However, they also wanted to avoid the negative environmental impact that comes with driving such a long trip. They agreed that seeing the country from the saddle of a bicycle was their best option.

The couple decided to organize their trip as a fundraiser to tap into their passion to end hunger and make a real difference in the lives of others. The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts was a natural choice to partner with for their ride. They estimate the cost of the trip will be approximately $5,000. Their goal is to raise double that, $10,000, to be able to donate $5,000 to The Food Bank. If they are able to reach their goal, Cam and Kayla will be providing 15,000 meals to our neighbors in need throughout Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire Counties.

Cam — who hails from Moretown, VT — studied Philosophy at UVM. No matter what career he pursues, he hopes to work to help others. Having led trips at Keewaydin Canoe Camp in Salisbury, VT for six years, he is no stranger to long, physically difficult journeys.

“Hunger is a simple yet devastating ill in this world,” says Cam. “We thought ‘why not start with food, a basic human need that should be accessible to all but unfortunately is not.’”

Growing up in Northampton, Kayla remembers cutting flowers and picking vegetables at The Food Bank Farm as a child. Although her family supports local and sustainable agriculture through CSA farm shares, Kayla’s passion for food systems really began when she took a course entitled World Food Population Development during her first year at college.

“We discussed all sorts of issues on a local and global scale,” says Kayla. “One that truly stuck was addressing the issue of hunger. Since my freshman year, I created a course load that encompasses this issue.”

Kayla went on to study Community and International Development with a focus on food systems, food justice and hunger. She has interned for the hunger relief project Campus Kitchens and conducted research for a more sustainable food system at UVM through the Real Food Challenge. She hopes to work for an organization that addresses food security in the future.

Departing from Northampton just two weeks after their graduation, they will travel west to Niagara Falls, around the southeastern edge of Lake Erie, south of Chicago, and then straight through the great plains of Iowa and Nebraska. They will then drop into Colorado before pedaling through Utah and Nevada on the way to their final destination of San Francisco. To complete the journey within their goal of less than three months, they will ride an average of 50 miles per day. By the end of their journey, they will have pedaled approximately 3,500 miles.

“We are very active, outdoors-oriented individuals, but we’ve never actually done long-distance touring before. This will be a grand part of the adventure,” says Cam. They have been cycling extensively to prepare for the ride. They know the trip will be challenging — both physically and mentally. But they have each other and know they’re riding for a noble cause.

You can contribute to Cam and Kayla’s fundraiser and follow along with updates from their trip. Visit their fundraising page at http://www.youcaring.com/other/kayla-and-cam-s-ride-for-hunger-relief/308229.

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Category : Blog
Posted on Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

Wendy McCaul, Food Services Director at the Gateway Regional School District, works to make sure students have access to healthy food

By Andrew Morehouse, Executive Director

I had the pleasure of meeting a local hero the other day. I visited Wendy McCaul, Food Services Director at the Gateway Regional School District in Huntington. She’s been the director since 2001 and has worked there for the last 30 years. The School Nutrition Association of Massachusetts recently presented her with the “Food Service Director of the Year” award. This statewide achievement recognizes the extraordinary contributions of school nutrition directors who manage effective, fiscally sound school meal programs that provide healthy, appetizing meals to students.

“I took a job as a dishwasher in the Gateway Cafeteria 30 years ago while I was raising my kids and I’ve been here ever since,” explained Wendy. “My kids went to school here. I now have grandchildren who go to school here. I live a few minutes away. I love my job and my community.”

Unlike many other schools across the country, Gateway bucks the trend by running its cafeteria in-house, rather than outsourcing it to a for-profit food service vendor. Gateway Regional houses both the middle and high schools for seven rural hill towns, ranging in population from 521 to 2,180 residents (2010 U.S. Census).*

A very growing problem that looms in these hill towns is the presence of food insecurity. With a population of 8,893 people, approximately 751 individuals receive SNAP benefits (formerly food stamps). While not as concentrated and large as is urban centers, it’s still very real and serious for one out of about every 13 people in this seven-town school district.

Wendy explained that she’s seen food insecurity increase dramatically in the last 14 years at Gateway. In 2001, 24% of children were eligible for free and reduced meals based on household income. Last year, that percentage reached 34%. She sees hungry kids all the time.

Wendy and her team serve food to 600 children every day — 600 lunches and 90 breakfasts. Much like other schools, fewer children eat breakfast than lunch. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that buses often don’t arrive until after breakfast is over.

Wendy has a plan: “I’m trying to make breakfast more accessible for kids, especially the ones who don’t have enough food at home. This year, I’m hoping to start a grab and go breakfast in the hallways.”

She shared with me a story about a family that moved to the school district. Wendy’s daughter-in-law, an elementary school teacher, noticed the family’s two children in her classroom the very first day. Their clothes looked tattered so she asked them if they had lunch. The only food they had was Cheetos. She sent them to the cafeteria. Wendy and her staff learned that these kids were income-eligible for the free and reduced school meals program and made sure they were enrolled in it. They are very proactive about doing this because they understand that children need to be nourished in order to be attentive and learn in school.

Fortunately, Wendy is noticing changes in children’s and parents’ habits toward healthier eating. Many years ago — long before last year’s new federal school nutrition guidelines went into effect — she began shifting the school menu to include more nutritious ingredients, such as whole wheat. The new federal guidelines will also require reducing the high level of sodium in school meals beginning next year. Wendy is up for the task because she wants kids to eat healthy food. She knows how much some households rely on school meals for their kids.

*Blandford, Chester, Huntington, Middlefield, Montgomery, Russell, Worthington

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Category : Blog
Posted on Tuesday, May 5th, 2015


John (fifth from left, back row) and Betsy (seventh from left, front row) with their cycling group in Vietnam

Since the first Will Bike 4 Food event in 2011, close to 500 cyclists have pedaled towards ending hunger in Western Massachusetts. However, one rider – John Follet of Chesterfield – claims a very unique distinction. He is the only person to ride in all four WB4F events. His participation alone has made a real difference in the lives of our food insecure neighbors, providing close to 8,000 meals. Riding has made a difference in John’s own life, as well. Will Bike 4 Food offered the opportunity to not only rekindle an old friendship but also led to a cycling tour to remember on the other side of the globe.

John was drawn to WB4F because it was a fun way to support a cause he felt passionately about. As a 70-year-old lifelong cyclist he no longer yearns for a competitive atmosphere. He has ridden long tours, raced in competitions and even commuted by bike before he retired.

“I’m retired now. But I was a pediatric physician and I had patients who skipped meals,” explains John. “I know how important access to nutritious food is. I think food is an essential right.”

John knew that his involvement would help impact the lives of others in the community, what didn’t know was that it would bring him back together with an old friend. While fundraising for his second WB4F in 2012, he recognized one of the names on the list of riders:  Betsy Evans. The two had become friends while their children were in school together in Western Massachusetts in the ‘70s. They lost touch when John and his family moved to Wisconsin, only to return to Massachusetts many years later. John reached out to Betsy and they made plans to ride the 50 mile route together at WB4F.

“It was really a special thing to have a long ride where you have hours together,” says Betsy. “You’re really hearing about each other’s lives and reflecting on them.” The two discussed what their children and grandchildren were up to and laughed about memories they shared years ago while riding past beautiful farmland and rolling hills.

“I love that route,” says Betsy. “I’ve lived in the area for almost 40 years and I go back to that route.”

As the two rode they were able to make new connections as well. John cites meeting other riders as one of his favorite parts of cycling. So when he spotted a young rider with a flat tire he took the opportunity to help. As John changed the tire he chatted with the rider and her friend. By the time they hit the road again, you would have thought he and the riders were best friends, says Betsy.

One of the many conversations John and Betsy began on that ride that they kept coming back to was how great cycling was as a vehicle to see the world. Betsy mentioned she had been thinking about planning a cycling trip abroad, and John shared that he had wanted to see Vietnam for years. Excited by the time they had spent together at Will Bike 4 Food, they gathered a group of family and friends and planned a cycling tour through Vietnam which Betsy describes as a life-changing experience.

Choosing to travel with a bicycle tour company, they rode with a tour guide allowing them to focus on the sights and local culture. The group rode around 150 miles in short sections, starting in the north in Hanoi and heading south towards the Mekong Delta. Every day there was new scenery to take in from vast rice fields to bustling open air markets to communal gardens farmed by locals to provide food to their villages. Just like at home, John enjoyed being able to stop and chat and found all of the locals to be friendly and welcoming.

“That ride at Will Bike 4 Food planted a seed of camaraderie that kept growing and growing,” says Betsy. “I don’t think our trip to Vietnam would have ever happened without that ride.”

John is now gearing up for his 5th Will Bike for Food and Betsy will be riding alongside him. Together they will enjoy the positive atmosphere and scenic views, and perhaps most importantly make new friends in the cycling community while giving back to the larger Western Mass. community.

“The connections keep multiplying,” says Betsy. “It’s like throwing a stone into a pond.”

Learn more about Will Bike 4 Food, and how you can get involved.

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Category : Blog
Posted on Tuesday, April 21st, 2015


The Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst

By: Andrew Morehouse, Executive Director

As the Executive Director of The Food Bank, one of the things I enjoy most about my job is that no two days are exactly alike. If I’m not thanking donors, greeting volunteers, or planning a meeting with staff, then I’m visiting a community partner. Most recently, I’ve had the privilege to speak at a number of faith-based organizations that support The Food Bank’s mission.

In the past month alone, I was invited to two church services to speak with the congregation about the issue of hunger and food insecurity in our region, as well as The Food Bank’s response to it. The first was the Unitarian Universalist Society in Amherst, which hosts a weekly community breakfast in collaboration with Craig’s Door (a local shelter) in addition to supporting many other local organizations that feed and shelter the most vulnerable population in Amherst. The other was St. Paul Lutheran Church in East Longmeadow. They have a small food pantry on-site and are currently engaged in a community needs assessment to determine what else the congregation should do to live its faith.

In speaking with the congregations, I shared stories about my experiences, and about the individuals I have met whose lives have been impacted through our work. It is clear to me that The Food Bank shares many of the same values as the congregations I visit. The basic principles of compassion, love for others, and the desire to help those in need have served as the foundation of our work in the community. Acting upon these values will be instrumental in facilitating change and creating a Western Massachusetts where no one goes hungry.

Together, we can take action and help our neighbors in need. I urged everyone to contact their legislators to ask that they support an increase in the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP) funding, and to write a letter to Governor Baker to request that he stop the new faulty SNAP application process.

On the day that I visited The Unitarian Universalist Society in Amherst, their parishioners collected $1,200 and donated it to The Food Bank. In addition, St. Paul Lutheran Church recently sent us a gift of $2,500 with a personal note stating: “to support the mission and ministry of The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.”

We are so grateful to them for their faith in us to carry out our mission. Through their efforts, and those like them, we can continue to feed our neighbors in need and lead the community to end hunger.

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Category : Blog
Posted on Tuesday, April 7th, 2015


Diana Spurgin (right) and Anne Palmer answer phones during Monte’s March IV.

Diana Spurgin spends most Tuesday mornings laughing and smiling with her friends. They aren’t sitting idle while they chat, however. They are helping make sure that the more than 235,000 people in Western Massachusetts who rely on the emergency food network have enough to eat. She and her friends work the morning warehouse volunteer shift at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, and they are integral to our operation. This April, we recognize our passionate volunteers and the important work that they do as part of our celebration of National Volunteer Month.

“It’s the type of place volunteers stay,” says Diana noting the many long-time regulars. “It’s such a great bonding experience. You’re standing next to someone from Hatfield and someone from Shelburne Falls, and you all know you’re doing something great together.”

Diana has been volunteering at The Food Bank for the past 4 years. In addition, she also spends time volunteering at the Amherst Survival Center, our member agency in the town in which she lives. She first visited The Food Bank after learning that much of the food served at the Survival Center was provided by The Food Bank, and seeing the impact that access to food can make.

“When I learned the surprisingly high number of children who can only rely on school lunches that was a real eye-opener for me,” says Diana. “A lot of people are opening empty refrigerators. No one should be hungry.”

Diana and her fellow volunteers sort food donations, taking care to make sure they are organized and packaged correctly for distribution. This is integral to making sure that all food distributed is fresh and ready to be delivered to those who need it most. She never finds her time to be boring, due to the friendly company.

“It’s a great group of people. I don’t feel like I’m working,” says Diana. “If anything, it’s good exercise. I always tell people that volunteering at The Food Bank is my exercise. We are lifting banana boxes full of canned goods!”

In addition to her usual Tuesday shift, Diana has also volunteered at a number of Food Bank events, including Will Bike 4 Food and our monthly Family Volunteer Day. She has even answered telephones during Monte’s March for the past three years.

“I love hearing the voices of people calling in who have like-minded goals and support the great work that Monte does,” says Diana who offered a matching donation for Amherst residents while volunteering this past year when her phone didn’t ring for a little longer than she would like.

Diana is involved in the community outside of The Food Bank as well. In additional to volunteering at Amherst Survival Center, she is the Vice President of the board for the Amherst Education Foundation, an independent, non-profit organization which supports Amherst area public schools in providing a challenging and enriching educational experience, and serves on the vestry at Grace Episcopal Church.

Recently, one of her passion projects snowballed into a much bigger fundraiser. When Diana became aware of how many families could not afford diapers during Diaper Need Awareness Week, she decided to do something about it by taking-up a collection at her church. Within one week, approximately 1,870 diapers were collected. When Amherst Survival Center’s Executive Director Mindy Domb learned of this early success, the two began to strategize expanding the effort.

They organized diaper drop-off sites throughout Amherst with help from Center for Human Development’s Family Outreach of Amherst, United Way of Pioneer Valley, the Amherst College Center for Community Engagement, State Representative Ellen Story, the district office representative for WIC, and other concerned individuals in the community.

“Everybody I’ve talked to has been as astounded as I was by the extent of diaper need in our community,” said Diana. The goal for the Amherst-area Diaper Drive was set at 18,000 diapers and 54,000 wipes. By the end of the drive 27,545 diapers and 54,000 wipes had been collected, far surpassing the goal for diapers and meeting the ambitious quota for wipes.

Involved citizens such as Diana and her fellow volunteers help keep our community strong. They truly make a difference in the lives of our neighbors who are struggling to both pay their bills and put food on the table, and they do so with a smile.

“Without volunteers The Food Bank couldn’t do what it’s doing. Everyone should volunteer at The Food Bank,” says Diana before hesitating for a moment. “Just don’t come in on Tuesday and take my spot!” she says with a laugh.

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Category : Blog
Posted on Monday, March 23rd, 2015


Assistant Nutrition Coordinator Laura Fries leads a microwave cooking demo for homeless families residing in the Holyoke Hotel

Hunger is not just about lack of food. It’s also about lack of nutritious food. Here at The Food Bank, our dedicated Nutrition department addresses the connection between food and health by leading programs in the community, and educating our neighbors in need so they can make healthier choices. Drawing upon their years of experience, they share their knowledge and improve clients’ health by raising awareness of the foods they eat.

Our nutrition outreach programs address many of the larger nutritional challenges facing our community. In addition, we also work closely with many clients who are unaware of how easy it can be to eat healthy on a limited budget. While many people feel that they can’t afford to eat healthy food, the cost (in both money and preparation time) of home cooked meals versus fast food is overestimated.

“People are under a lot of stress, but they want to feed their families more nutritious meals,” said Diane Alpern, The Food Bank’s Nutrition Coordinator. “Getting people motivated to feel good about cooking with healthy ingredients is important. We are providing full-length educational workshops that teach how to make a healthy plate without spending more.” With more than 20 years experience in the field, including hospital and outpatient environments, Diane is a registered dietitian and an active member of the Western Area Massachusetts Dietetic Association.

While fast food may be tempting for families on a tight budget, it can be much easier to resist the drive-thru knowing that there are healthier options well within reach. Just think about what $2.49 might buy at a fast food place, compared with how many healthy meals could be prepared with one dozen eggs for $2.49. Eating healthy meals doesn’t require long hours in the kitchen and expensive ingredients. Our workshops and supermarket tours empower people with limited incomes to make healthy choices for their families. Recipes incorporating food being distributed as ingredients are often passed out at Mobile Food Bank and Brown Bag sites. We even provide recipes that only require a microwave, for those who find themselves without access to a kitchen.

“One of the recipes was made with spaghetti squash and some of the people attending the class had never tasted any kind of squash,” said Darleen St. Jacques, Program Manager of Loaves and Fishes Kitchen at Open Pantry in Springfield, following a cooking demonstration. “They now are buying and cooking different types of squash available at the grocery stores! They were so excited to learn about this vegetable.”

“Nutrition has such an impact on every aspect on your life,” states Laura Fries, The Food Bank’s Assistant Nutrition Coordinator. She notes that small changes bring both immediate results, such as more energy and a better ability to focus, as well as reducing the likelihood of serious health issues in the future. Laura will receive a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst this May. She brings a fresh perspective to organizing education programs at a community level and is enthusiastic about teaching healthy eating habits.

We believe that everyone has a right to nutritious food regardless of their circumstances. Lack of nutritious food has a domino effect on all aspects of a person’s life. Without access to critical items such as lean meats, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, areas with high rates of food insecurity experience increased rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, , and other health problems. The healthier you are,  the more time you can spend improving your situation instead of missing work or school due to health concerns. During National Nutrition Month in March, we shine a light on the importance eating well plays in our community. But Nutrition is important to the fight against hunger every day of the year.

Be sure to visit our Nutrition Tips for more information about preparing healthy meals, and a number of easy and delicious recipes.

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Category : Blog