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:
- Merrimack Valley Food Bank
- New Hampshire Food Bank
- Project Bread, the state’s leading hunger organization
- America’s Second Harvest, A2H has a member network locator at their home page if you want your donation to go to a local provider check that out.
and now for our regularly scheduled vlog …
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.
Amy 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…