Vlog: Hunger in America – Merrimack Valley Food Bank

cross-posted at dailykos. The first in a three-part series on Hunger in Massachusetts and part of the continuing guerrilla vlogger series.

Last summer, the food pantry near where I live sent out an urgent request:

Please help, we are having the busiest summer in five years. We need help feeding all the kids that are out of school and not receiving their school lunch.

So in an effort to learn more about this issue, I decided to do this vlog and I’ve been video-taping at the Merrimack Valley Food Bank for this diary.

I contacted them through their website and they were happy that someone, even a guerrilla like me, wanted to do something, anything, to shed some light on this problem and promote awareness about what they and all the other providers do and how you can help.

I hope that you follow me below the fold for the video and some facts about hunger. Please let us all know about your experiences in your area.

Everyone that I talked to for this project wanted me to let you know that the need is greatest at this time of year because of the cost of home heating. People in this industry, the clients and providers, are in a state of panic to satisfy their ever increasing needs in a climate of budget cuts and rising food costs. If you gave at Christmas then you need to consider giving again.

They need you now. Contribute with confidence: donate food and money or volunteer your time. Most of these organizations rely on volunteers to do anywhere from 50-99.9% of the work:

and now for our regularly scheduled vlog …

From ProjectBread:

Project Bread Releases Study — Hunger More Than Doubles in State

Boston ? November 14, 2006 ? In a recently conducted study, Project Bread found that hunger has increased from 8% three years ago to 18%, driven by poverty and the high cost of living in Massachusetts. Bottom line ? hunger has more than doubled in Massachusetts?s low-income communities.

Today, Project Bread released results from its annual Status Report on Hunger in Massachusetts 2006 at a State House legislative briefing, hosted by the Children?s Caucus. The study also shows that 32% of households in low-income communities are at high risk of hunger and more than half of those households actually experience hunger. In addition to the study?s results, Project Bread also presented new and proven strategies to overcome this growing problem.

?In low-income communities in Massachusetts the prevalence of hunger has reached a new high ? more than double what it was just three years ago. Across the state, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people who are at-risk for hunger ? a population that would fill the cities of Lawrence, Worcester, and Springfield,? said Ellen Parker, executive director of Project Bread.

From the Boston Globe Editorial:

Hunger: An invisible scourge

… None of this [the explosion of hunger] surprises any of the dedicated citizens throughout the Commonwealth who run food pantries.

Stocks of foodstuffs are falling dangerously low, and it is always a challenge to meet the needs of the ever-growing number of people in need. Contributions from food chains and generous supporters keep these pantries in business, but there is only so much that can be done.

In this country of plenty, hunger should not exist, much less be on the increase. And yet what we are seeing in urban centers such as Brockton and Quincy is a growing underclass that does not enjoy the prosperity that so many of us take for granted.

Project Bread has called for a statewide campaign to end hunger in Massachusetts. In addition to their annual walk for hunger, there is now a renewed emphasis on a comprehensive solution, one that would make school breakfasts a regular feature in urban schools, provide hunger screening at neighborhood health centers, develop partnerships with supermarkets to promote healthy food choices for those families using food stamps, and — perhaps most important — nudge communities to place more emphasis on collecting and distributing food to those in need.

Hunger is easy to ignore. It is not easily detectable. We can see the homeless sleeping in a doorway or walking aimlessly around town, but it is difficult to pick out the person who hasn’t had a nutritious meal in a long time, or the student who sits in class and goes through the motions of learning.

Even though the focus in the above articles may be on the so-called “low-income” members of our community, the fact is that food insecurity is affecting more and more people in this country each year at many income levels. The costs of housing, health care, gas and heat continue to rise while wages remain stagnant. And the stagnant wage earners are the lucky ones. Many people lose a job that they could live on only to take a job that they can’t live on. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to get the right answer on that equation. The trend can be seen all over the country. America’s Second Harvest, A2H, publishes a study each year on Hunger in America. From their survey of providers, demand is up across the board in all states in the country.

From a Newsweek report this month:

Poor Among Plenty. For the first time, poverty shifts to the U.S. suburbs.

Once prized as a leafy haven from the social ills of urban life, the suburbs are now grappling with a new outbreak of an old problem: poverty. Currently, 38 million Americans live below the poverty line, which the federal government defines as an annual income of $20,000 or less for a family of four. But for the first time in history, more of America’s poor are living in the suburbs than the cities?1.2 million more, according to a 2005 survey. ?The suburbs have reached a tipping point,? says Brookings Institution analyst Alan Berube, who compiled the data. For example, five years ago, a Hunger Network food pantry in Bedford Heights, a struggling suburb of Cleveland, served 50 families a month. Now more than 700 families depend on it for food…

The suburban poor defy stereotypes about how and why people slip into poverty. Howard and Jane Pettry, of Middleburg Heights, Ohio, see themselves as working-class ?just facing hard times. In December, Jane was laid off from her job at a local supermarket, and a week later Howard had a heart attack and missed a month of work from his job at a grain mill. Now Jane’s collecting unemployment and they’re staring at the poverty line as they struggle to pay the mortgage and the bills. “I’ve worked all my life and paid my taxes,” says Jane. “Now we’re living off credit cards. It’s terrible.”

Suburban poverty can also be invisible. Poor people who live in the city tend to be concentrated in subsidized housing or in neighborhoods where the rent is low, which in turn attract retail businesses that target customers with low incomes. Poor suburbanites often live in the same ZIP codes as their affluent neighbors, shop at the same stores and send their children to the same public school. And if people don’t see themselves as poor, they often don’t seek the help they need.

I was welcomed at the Merrimack Valley Food Bank and I got a full tour of their facility. Amy Pessia, the Director of th
e Food Bank, was gracious and so articulate about what her non-profit is doing on this important issue in our communities. She talked to me about how dedicated all the employees at the Food Bank are to the work they do and I could see the passion and commitment. It ain’t a glamorous job and they work in the freezing cold in the winter and I bet the sweltering heat in the summer since they essentially run a loading dock and their offices are open to the elements. They always have their hand out to anyone that is in a position to write a check or donate a can of tomatoes to them. They don’t get paid what they’re worth, but they get up everyday and do the job because it?s important to them. I wrote this vlog because it’s important to me. I hope you agree.

They are heroes and we need to do whatever we reasonably can to enable their success. Food Banks like Amy?s rely on volunteers to do most of the work and donations to feed the hungry. In part two of this series you’ll see the Mobile Food Pantry, Amy?s pride and joy. They get out into the community with a care package once a month for almost 300 seniors that might not be able to get to a Soup Kitchen for a nutritious meal or to the Food Pantry to pick up some groceries. They do it with volunteer labor and it?s like that for most any provider in this field.

Interview with Amy Pessia

Here?s a sneak peak at the tour they gave me, the full video tour will be posted here by me next week so check for that if you’re interested. I don’t know where I came up with the ?central organizing committee? comment. Most of the stuff I shoot is totally off the cuff and I’m not a pro. It?s citizen journalism for me all the way. I asked Amy to treat me a bit like an alien because I wanted to represent the viewer, you. I wanted to discover what they do and write this vlog to illuminate any readers. I wanted to do this vlog because in America it?s not okay that so many of us can’t afford the basics in the most fundamental need that all humans have.


As far as I know air is still free.

Amy also wants us to know that there is a big difference between a Food Bank like hers and a Food Pantry or Soup Kitchen. The Food Bank is akin to the wholesaler in the food supply chain. The Food Pantry or Soup Kitchen is akin to the retail agents. Food Banks take in products from different sources, government and donated, and then fill their providers’ orders as best they can. Providers load up at the Food Bank with as much as they can get according to their needs and then have to still go out and buy the rest of what they need to serve their customers in turn.

Hunger Strike – Temple of the Dog

And because I’m fighting for social justice out there and on the ?internets,? all of them, I also made this video. Viral? Maybe if you send the link out to your friends. I would like to point out one thing though about this video. Although I use the Faith Based slide and Bush to draw the analogy between the bad ole days and the supposedly good ole days today, I would like to say something extremely important about Faith Based Providers. They show up and do most of the work. I met a couple of Mormons at the Food Bank. They were young kids doing their mission year in Lowell, MA, two were from Utah and one was from Brazil. They’re regular volunteers and you’ll meet them next week.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usAmy told me that they, faith based providers, are some of the most reliable “customers” of her Food Bank, “We must work harder each year to sustain government funding, and we work just as hard to make new relationships with our local community to sustain our programs”. In her line of work you can always count on the churches and the grassroots. And they should have the respect and admiration of all of us for the valuable service they provide to all of us in all of our neighborhoods.

Having said that, however, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and it’s state government have been extremely supportive of heroes like Amy and her staff, volunteer or not, at the Food Bank. She told me that the State government passed a spending bill to support the 4 main Food Banks in Mass. and that only two legislators in the whole state voted against it. She’s lucky that our state government is so committed to her success and consequently so are we if we live in Massachusetts.

Amy and Deb, who you will meet next week, were especially appreciative of the support they get from State Senator Steven C. Panagiotakos, pictured above at right.

Father Mike on labor and hunger among the affluent

Here’s a clip that I taped when I was vlogging John Edwards in Manchester, NH on Labor Day 2006. I ran into a Catholic Priest at the AFL-CIO breakfast. I asked him about labor because it was a union event, but since he is a Priest I also asked him about poverty. He comes from an affluent community, Portsmouth, NH, where people really are struggling to meet their basic needs. Click to hear his remarks.

One more thing, the food that we collect and donate is considered ?the most valuable? in the entire facility, you’ll see that discussion next week too.

The time is now to donate or volunteer. The winter and summer are the times that the need is greatest because in the summer the kids don’t get their lunch at school and in the winter the high cost of home heating throws people on a tight budget into a state of panic and fear. You can fill their belly and relieve their burden even if it?s just for one day.

They need you now. So donate or volunteer and sleep better. Sleep like you have a full belly and a warm safe place to rest your head satisfied that you helped someone out just like you because as Amy Pessia said in her intro, ?we are all one life changing event away from needing the services of one of her providers.? Next week the full video tour and a look at what happens once the food leaves the Food Bank. I follow the food right out into the soup kitchens and food pantries. It was guerrilla all the way and I hope you tune in for that vlog. It’s vitally important.

See you out there…

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23 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Remember this?

    Video: Joseph Lowery (4:50)

    Millions without health insurance, poverty abounds. For war billions more, but no more for the poor.

    -- Rev. Joseph Lowery co-founder of SCLC

    And it came true this week: Bush says budget will limit non-defense spending. 245 billion for the wars and what amounts to a 1.5% decrease in spending for providers like Amy. It's perverse.  Full video from Democracy Now from the weekly report done by Amy Goodman.

    • Yes, I remember

      I remember wondering how could anyone be so ignorant, so graceless as to use a funeral ceremony to utter cheap, clumsy insults directed at an invited guest.

      • if you take a moment

        to educate yourself on who Coretta Scott King was and what she stood for, you will see that these comments were perfectly appropriate.  And sorry, geo999, but the funderal wasn't about GWB, the funeral was about Coretta Scott King.  She was the guest of honor, not the preznit.

        • Read it again. I said $quot;invited guest$quot;, not $quot;guest of honor$quot;

          but the funderal wasn't about GWB

          It was Lowery who brought GWB into the eulogy - an uncivil, and unnecessary play to the cheap seats.

          And thanks for the patronaizing comment, but I'm pretty well informed about the late Mrs King, God rest her soul.

          • ok, sorry to be patronizing

            but you seemed to be missing the main point: that the eulogy correctly expressed Mrs King's views.  As such, it was completely fitting.

            As for 'invited guest' vs 'guest of honor', ok, my mistake.  But my response is still valid.  The funeral wasn't about GWB, it was about Mrs King, and Mrs King was no fan of GWB-like policy.  If anyone goes to a funeral and expects to get more deference than the deceased, they aren't really there to honor the deceased. 

      • How could he not?

        Martin Luther King was a man of peace more than anything else. Coretta Scott King continued his work.

        To not metion it would have been an insult to everything they stood for in this country.

        At the time, I wrote this diary because I think that a lot of people forget the legacy pf Dr. King: The Reverend IN CONTEXT w/POLL

        Rev. Lowery's remarks, excerpted:
        How marvelous that Presidents and Governors come to mourn and praise, but in the morning... (smattering of yeahs, applause)

        Will words become deeds that meet needs? ... (smattering of applause and some standing now)

        She summoned the nations to study war no more.

        She extended Martin's message against poverty, racism and war. She deplored the terror inflicted by our smart bombs on missions afar. We know now that there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction over there. (Standing applause)

        But Coretta knew and we knew that there were Weapons of MisDirection right down here. (Ohhs)

        Millions without health insurance, poverty abounds, for war billions more but NO MORE for the poor.

        Coretta had harsh critics, some no one could please, but she paid them no mind, she kept speaking for the least of these...

        This is a huge point that everyone forgets about the King Legacy: NON-VIOLENT resolution of political problems.

        Taylor Branch's third installment in the biography of Dr. King just came out last month it's called At Cannan's Edge: The History of America in the King Years. He hits this issue hard. The book covers 1965 - 1968.

        Straight up the book opens with Selma and on the same day the troops landing in Vietnam, a war fought mostly by sons of middle and lower income families, kids who didn't qualify for college or political deferments.

        Dr. King held fast to his belief in non-violence as the means to achieve political goals. They didn't give him a Nobel because he suffered the slings and arrows of racism; they gave it to him because he was a philosopher at heart and an important national political leader second.

        He furthered the work of Gandhi in this country and in the time frame for this book he was not praised for it. Everyone wanted to rumble on both sides at this point, but he never wavered.

        That's why Rev. Lowery's remarks were important, that's the context. It wasn't an ugly partisan scene, it was Dr. King's legacy. A legacy that we are all blessed with as Americans. The problem wasn't the funeral and the mourners, the problem was two of the attendants at the funeral. Don't let people tell you otherwise. Remind them what Dr. King and his lovely, strong and inspirational wife stood for.

        Sorry, you picked the wrong time to criticize the co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Thanks for playing.

        • Thanks, but I didn't come here to play

          I also did not, as you state, criticize the co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

          I criticized the man, Joseph Lowery, for what I, with my old-school manners, considered to be inappropriate remarks during a solemn occasion. To imply otherwise takes us down a whole 'nother road.

          Reasonable people may disagree on matters of politics. I find it curious that there is little common ground, nowadays, on matters of decorum.

          • If you think it was rude

            then consider the alternative. Not saying anything. If you think his remarks were distasteful (and you're not alone in this) then consider the rank and bitter flavor of silence.

            Didn't King himself say at Riverside that, "Silence is Betrayal."

            How could Lowery deny the history? As a man, a friend or a colleague.

            That's old school okay. That's their school old school. They never bowed to the power structure in this country and kept their mouths shut and played nice. They used their talents and positions to speak out for the powerless and for what is right over what is comfortable. They posed the questions that they felt were important and they did it with righteous fury.

            I'm glad that Lowery didn't defame their memories and all those who fought the struggle by keeping his mouth shut out of respect for the powerful.

            Is your beef with the fact that funerals or church services should be subdued? Because if that's the problem then you have to appreciate that a lot of churches just aren't like that. Church services and funerals in some places are supposed to be raucous. Why do you think he was standing in a church built for 20,000 people? Where do you think the expression "raise the roof" comes from? In some churches you're supposed to jump up and scream out. I've never been to a service at that church in Lithonia, but you have to appreciate that people worship in different ways.

        • Similar thoughts

          That reminds me of a great Geov Parrish article on the legacy of MLK.

          • Exactly

            I missed this article thanks for the link:

            Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., would have been 78 on Monday. He has been dead for 39 years, as long as he was alive. As his living memory fades, replaced by a feel-good "I have a dream" whitewash that ignores much of what he stood for and fought against, it's more important than ever to recapture the true history of Dr. King -- because much of what he fought against is resurfacing or still with us today.

            King, the man, was, along with Mohandas Gandhi, one of the two most internationally revered symbols of nonviolence in the 20th century. He spent his too-brief adult life defying authority and convention, citing a higher moral authority, and gave hope and inspiration for the liberation of people of color on six continents. MLK Day, the holiday, has devolved into the Mississippi Burning of third Mondays. What started out as gratitude, that they made a movie about it, gradually becomes revulsion at how new generations of Euro-Americans mislearn the story.

            It's a great article because it accurately points out that all this stuff is still with us today. Also informative because I didn't know that "speaking truth to power" can be attributed to the Quakers. Thanks again for that link, it's vitally important today.

            By the way, I didn't know any of this stuff until I read the Taylor Branch series. It's about 2000 pages total, but it's really worth it. Branch did a bang up job and although his book is about the movement he ends up telling the whole history of the whole country in those years. Unfortunately what we're taught is just the "I have a Dream" speech. That speech has it's place, but it was one tiny little facet of the struggle.

          • Maybe you read it

            maybe you didn't but the Taylor Branch was really stellar. Just for readers, the way Selma (the first one) went down in the court of public opinion was unbelievable.

            Here's the abridged version from memory which may be a bit dusty.

            As we all know the Selma march, the first one, ended in a complete debacle. The march was to start at a church and go to a public office to register voters, black voters. They had to cross a bridge, the Edmund Pettis Bridge. The cops pulled out all the stops. Dogs, tear gas, billy clubs, it was a majorly disturbing scene. Old women and children hanging off the bridge, bloody and beaten, screaming for help. Really gross. The whole nine yards.

            CBS or one of the networks, not sure which one here, was present and they filmed the whole thing. It was a Sunday. The crew got on a private plane and flew the film to NY to the news division immediately.

            That night the network was playing Judgment at Nuremberg starring Spencer Tracy.

            The news division interrupted the broadcast to show the scenes of abject tyranny to a very large viewing audience outside of the region and all over the country. But it's where they made the cut that had the greatest impact, according to Branch, and it was sheer serendipity.

            They have a scene in that movie where Tracy asks an ordinary German couple outside of the courtroom: why didn't you speak out against the atrocities? Didn't you have a responsibility? How can you just blame those in charge when morality is the responsibility of every citizen?

            That movie had a viewership of about 50-60 million people. And every one of them saw what went down in Selma first hand for themselves that night. And out of luck or providence or whatever they saw it in context. People who had fought the war and people who had sacrificed so much to defeat the Nazis, including their loved ones, saw what was happening in context that night.

    • Poor taste

      Using that moment to launch a personal attack was in very poor taste, IMO.  As was the use of Paul Wellstone's funeral several years ago.  At least this fit of pique did not result in the loss of a Senate seat.

      • It's not a matter of taste, it's a matter of justice

        When you have the opportunity to speak out on issues of race and poverty with the President of the United States right there to hear you, formalities and your particular style of taste are secondary. It would be wrong, in my opinion, not to use a memorial of one of the most important civil rights workers to not remind us that her work lives on.

        Also, mbair, congrats on getting the diary up on the DailyKos Rescue Rangers!

      • That's your opinion

        Fair enough, see my reply above. Is it the disrespect for Bush that you object to or the fact that a church service should be solemn? I think I address both concerns in the reply. I hope you read the article that Tim Little linked to.

        As far as Wellstone, I have no information on that one.

        • Not necessarily Bush

          You don't invite someone to an occasion like that, sit him in a prominent spot behind the podium, and then gratuitously insult him.  If they wanted to make that sppech, they should have suggested to the White House that maybe the president should take a pass.

          Wellstone's funeral became a political rally. complete with whoop-whooping, and turned off the voters to such a degree that the seat was lost.

          That speech wasn't "justice", it was a guy being an obnoxious prick.  He made his speech to the choir, most of whom view obnoxiousness as a virtue, and convinced no one else of anything.  Way to go!

          • Your characterization

            that the insult was gratuitous is not tenable.

            Martin Luther King was against war, all war, and his wife spoke out against the invasion of Iraq. The movement was, at its core, all about speaking truth to power.

            You don't invite someone to an occasion like that, sit him in a prominent spot behind the podium, and then gratuitously insult him.

            George Bush is an adult and the President of the country. Why does he need to be insulated and protected from words and ideas? Why does he need to be defended from:

            an obnoxious prick

            As far as,

            If they wanted to make that sppech, they should have suggested to the White House that maybe the president should take a pass.

            Maybe the President should take it like a man instead of blaming everyone else for his own mistakes. Instead of blaming every other

            obnoxious prick

            in the world for merely pointing out the obvious. There were no WMDs in Iraq. He lied us into a war and he does absolutely nothing whatsoever to help people like Amy Pessia up there feed the hungry in this country. Read the article, 245 Billion for the wars through 2008 and a 1% increase in non-defense spending. With inflation at 2.5% last year that means a 1.5 % decrease in USDA aid and that Amy Pessia is going to have her hands full in the next year. 

  2. If you live in the neighborhood

    or you're just apssing through someday, I got this e-mail from Amy just yesterday:

    Won't You Help Us Get to Our Goal of 50,000 Pounds of Food?

    Spring Pantry Raid March 17-24, 2007

    The Merrimack Valley Food Bank is planning a Neighborhood Food Drive, known as "The Pantry Raid".

    At this time, the Food Bank, as well as most of our member agencies,struggle to keep enough non-perishable food on their shelves to feed the neediest populations in Greater Lowell, the Merrimack Valley, North Shore and Southern New Hampshire.  The Pantry Raid helps us replenish items here at the food bank until the annual Postal Carriers' Food Drive in May.We need assistance with one or all of the following activities:

    1.March 17-22 -  distributing empty bags with flyers attached, to homes in Dracut, Centralville and Pawtucketville (You will need a vehicle, maps will be provided).

    2.Saturday, March 24, 9:30am - 2:00pm; picking up full bags from homes that have received the empty bags.

    3.March 1-31  Conduct a food drive at your place of work, worship or an upcoming birthday, anniversary or other celebration - we can assist you in making it a success

    Volunteering is a great way to spend time with family, friends,co-workers & co-worshippers, while helping our neighbors in need.

    We look forward to hearing from you at: (978) 454-7272  or via e-mail at amy_pessia(at)mvfb(dot)org

  3. thank you from a food bank recipient

    thank your mbair for writing this up, and David for promoting it.  i had to rely on some food banks a few years ago when a family tragedy rendered me unemployed for a number of months.  without this assistance, not sure what i would have done.  lost my housing, for sure.  i urge everyone to get into the habit of making a contribution (in food, time or money) on a regular basis.  it'll become like wearing a seat belt.  when you forget, something just doesn;t feel right.  alternately, every time you go out to lunch, offer to buy same for a homeless person on the block.  and by all means continue lobbying for humane levels of public assistance.  thanks.

    • See this is the thing

      The cost of living is so high in this area that a temporary interruption in cash flow and you're looking at some really sobering choices pretty darned quick.

      I was so impressed with these people and they do it because they want to. I shop at Shaw's and I can pick up a 5, 10 or 15 dollar tag in the check out line on my way out the door each week. Everyone should think about doing something locally, it's so important. Just like Amy Pessia said, "we are all one life changing event away from needing the services of one of her providers."

      I'm glad that your event was only temporary.

  4. Thank you

    Dear mbair:

    I applaud your discussion of and research on hunger in Massachusetts, and thank you for your commitment to the Merrimack Valley Food Bank -- an agency partially funded by Project Bread. Your observation that hunger affects people at many income levels is an important one. At Project Bread, we work to reach hungry persons in their own communities, and hungry children where they live, learn, and play so that everyone experiencing hunger can have healthy food. Thanks for referencing our recent Status Report on Hunger in Massachusetts, and most importantly, for advocating for hungry people in our state.

    All the best, Ellen Parker Executive Director Project Bread - The Walk for Hunger www.projectbread.org 

    • My pleasure

      You might not see this, I just now got your comment in this diary. Good luck next week with Hunger on the Hill, I'll be watching. Unfortunately I'll be out of town on the 13th.

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