The Food Bank announces new anti-hunger initiative in partnership with Holyoke Health Center
In January 2016, The Food Bank gathered more than two dozen community partners to develop a plan to end hunger in western Massachusetts. In addition to meeting monthly, this Task Force to End Hunger also held a series of open community forums in each of the four counties to collaborate with various stakeholders and community residents, and collect their input.
“We have a strong conviction here at The Food Bank that everyone has a right to healthy food, regardless of their circumstances,” said Andrew Morehouse, executive director at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. “We are not only experiencing heightened levels of food insecurity in our region, but it is, in fact, becoming the new normal. And it’s a new normal that we can’t accept.”
Through these discussions and collective research, the Task Force identified three priority areas its members believe will move the needle toward ending hunger in western Massachusetts:
- Erase the stigma associated with hunger,
- Develop a mechanism to provide integrated services for those who need them, and
- Address issues related to public policy.
Led by The Food Bank, the first step in the implementation of this new action plan will begin this spring, in partnership with Holyoke Health Center. Care providers will screen pediatric patients and their families for food insecurity at the health center. If determined to be food insecure, their doctor will refer them to The Food Bank, where they will be connected with the necessary resources.
Food Bank staff will work closely with families to identify the most appropriate services. This may include applying for SNAP benefits, access to nutrition education, and/or locating food assistance in their own communities (including food pantries, emergency meal sites, or The Food Bank’s own Brown Bag; Food for Elders program or Mobile Food Banks). This assistance and case work will extend beyond The Food Bank. Families will also be referred to additional agencies that can help with issues related to housing, job training, and other wrap-around services.
“The Holyoke Health Center is incredibly excited about this opportunity — to be able to pilot screening for food insecurity in the clinical setting and make referrals directly to a place that can do something about it,” said Dr. Vincent Biggs, a pediatrician in Holyoke. “It is really a clinical community partnership that has the opportunity to very much impact social determinants of health.”
Funding for this program will be supported by an Innovation Planning grant through the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, which was awarded to The Food Bank in February.
The full version of The Task Force’s action plan was released during a press conference on March 3, supported by Congressmen James McGovern and Richard Neal.
For additional information, contact Nancy Robinson at 413-247-9738 ext. #147.