Some stats on the current hunger situation in the country.
- In 2005, 37 million people were in poverty including 12.9 million children under the age of 18 yet less than 4 million of those children lived in a home where neither parent worked.
- 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
- 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 percentage of poor Americans who are living in severe poverty has reached a 32-year high – nearly 16 million defined as a family of four earning $9,903 or an individual earning $5,080
- The McClatchy analysis found that the number of severely poor Americans grew by 26 percent from 2000 to 2005 – 56 percent faster than the overall poverty population grew in the same period. The severely poor represent 43% of Americans in poverty today.
- The percentage of the population in severe poverty grew in 65 of 215 large U.S. counties and 28 states. The review also suggested that the rise in severely poor residents isn’t confined to large urban counties but extends to suburban and rural areas.
- In 2005, 3.6 million seniors 65 and older were in poverty, an increase from 3.5 million in 2004.
- Regardless of income level, food is the second largest average expense on a child for families, accounting for 15% to 20% of child-rearing expenses.
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:
- Central Food Ministry
- Lowell Transitional Living Center
- 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 …
I transcribed a bunch of these interviews, not all believe it or not, so you could just read it if you can’t play video at your PC because you might be working or something. My comments or questions are in italics what Tony, Janet and Amy say are in plain text. I conducted the interview with Janet Barsorian in Amy Pessia’s office at the Merrimack Valley Food Banks so Amy jumps in at the end of Part 3 with some comments and the shrimp story. Stick with the video of til the end of part 3, Janet’s personality really comes through at that point.
First up is Tony Luna from Central Food Ministry in Lowell, MA. They run a real food pantry in the area and are currently serving about 150 or so client families. They fill boxes of groceries for their clients and provide a warm coat or pair of shoes when they can. Tony is a Lutheran lay minister and he also works a homeless ministry and an after school program in Lowell for kids.
Video: Tony Luna (7:56)
Central Food Ministry
Hi, we are in Central Food Ministry in Lowell, MA. And you are Tony Luna and you are the director here?
I am the director and a lay minister. We also do other outreach ministries through the food pantry here.
What are you trying to accomplish here?
Well what we’re trying to accomplish is, we’re trying to put a little dent in the hunger and homelessness that’s very big here in Lowell and the surrounding communities. So we’re trying to do our part. We give out over 4 tons of food a week. We service right around 150 families a week. We’re open three days: Tuesday; Wednesday and Thursday. And also on Thursday evenings too to help those who work during the day. We’re open for an hour from seven to eight. And that’s been quite a big thing, we’ve served as many as thirty five families one time in that hour. So it’s been a good thing for those who can’t came during the day.
I saw the volunteers filling the orders with nutritious food – now, where does that food come from?
We have a number of locations and agencies where we pick up this food. Hannaford’s, the grocery chain, has just been – I just can’t begin to say enough about them …
I pick up at the Dracut facility, Hannaford’s in Dracut, on Mondays through Thursdays and then on Saturdays. And they give us pastries, deli, produce and bakery goods.
Yeah, I saw that it was stacked pretty much from the floor to the ceiling in there.
And they are just tremendous.
Okay got that? Hannaford’s in the local area is a huge supporter of these providers. Amy Pessia, Executive Director of Merrimack Valley Food Bank, told me the exact same thing about Hannaford’s in the tour I got of her facility in Part 2 of this series. Anyone stand out as a great member of your community? Let us know here in the comments section. Tony continues to describe how he gets all this food together from different source for his shelter.
Every Tuesday I have a couple of volunteers that go to the Merrimack Valley Food Bank here in Lowell and that’s where we pick up our USDA items that we give to people and also MEFAP items.
And also the donated food on occasion.
You apply to the Food Bank, they tell you based on what you do how much you can get…
The allotment that we’re allowed. Yup.
And they are one source of food for your organization.
Right, right. And then on Wednesday we have two different volunteers that head to Boston Food Bank and pick up food there for our agency here. They’re a big, big one in Boston. And they have, from the get go once we signed in as a charity organization to receive food from them, they have really met our needs great. But also too the Merrimack Valley Food Bank has also gone beyond anything in what they do. They s
ervice a whole bunch of agencies and they really, they really help us. And it’s great to have them in a nearby location too where we don’t have to travel as far.
Throughout the year we have numerous other food drives that help us. We have the annual food drive that is held the second Saturday of May. The third week of October we have what we call Hunger Homeless Week. And through that the schools in Dracut will begin a food drive and then CFM benefits from that drive. And the schools in Dracut have just been awesome. For the most part the food that is donated from individuals isn’t enough to sustain us so I do have to go out and look for bargains. Where ever I find a sale I’ll go directly to the manager and ask him if I can buy in bulk.
And load up
And load up. I’ve had as many as 200 hundred cases of soup in the van. I’m always looking and keeping my eyes open for discounts so we can buy and purchase food.
I’d like to emphasize this point. Even with the assistance that Tony gets through his affiliation with the food banks in his area, he still has to go and buy food on a regular basis to keep those shelves stocked for his clients. Donated food plays a huge part in filling that void, as Amy Pessia said in Part 2 the donated food is the gold in the facility and plays a crucial role for her providers, but Tony still has to reach out and shake trees for cash donations that he can turn into cans of soup and full bellies for his client families. Your role in this type of organization, as a donor of time or money, is so vitally important.
Is there anything else you’d like to speak to the blog and any readers about today?
There are a couple of things. Not only do we give food and clothing out to people as needed – the Lord has blessed me with a wonderful ministry with the homeless here. I have homeless coming in on Thursday and Sundays, where they’ll come in and we’ll go in the back kitchen and we’ll cook a little meal and you know whether we open a can of soup or whatever to them it’s like a gourmet meal.
We’ll all enjoy that together and then we’ll come in here for bible study. The after school program on Monday has been great. The kids that come to this program come from broken homes and they really feel the love here. Accepted. And that’s been such a joy to be a part of.
Tony ends his remarks today with some comments about how important his staff is to the mission at CFM or any one of these kinds of providers.
And again, the volunteers that you video taped today – I can’t begin to say enough about them because without them I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing here. And this agency wouldn’t be able to function without them. And they’re just volunteers. I get paid for what I do, but they volunteer.
Yeah, I want to make sure that we kind of, uh, accentuate that point that ministries like yours, food banks and food pantries, they rely on volunteers sometimes 80 plus percent of what they do …
Yeah it is
Is all volunteer work.
Exactly, exactly. So I just take off my hat to them every day. Sometimes I feel bad that sometimes thank you doesn’t seem like it’s enough but to them it is and that’s special.
And the reason that they are here is because they’re passionate and committed to the cause.
So you’re actually giving them an opportunity
To do what they want to do.
Right. You’re exactly right and I have such wonderful, wonderful volunteers here. And I wish that we could all be in here together – you should be videoing them instead of me because they are the backbone of the ministry.
They’re the heroes…
Yeah, exactly. They’re the ones working in the trenches.
I did get an interview with Ken, a volunteer at the food pantry, before I spoke with Tony. Ken is from Concord and he’s been working at CFM for ten years. He’s “only been retired for 28 years,” and he says to me on tape that this job is the best he’s ever had. Make sure you see this clip in the vlog, Ken is the salt of the earth and he ends the clip with a great joke. I had more tape on Ken but I chose this small clip because it fit so great with what Tony was talking about and it just seemed like hand in glove here.
Ken, thanks for taking a few minutes to talk to me that cold February Day – you steal the show buddy. And to all the volunteers at CFM, Thank You isn’t enough – but Thank You.
Video: Central Food Ministry (9:36)
In this clip you can see exactly what they do at CFM. You might not be able to hear it well, but that song from the Rolling Stones comes on the radio in the second half. Although this is a Christian Lutheran ministry and the song title is very ironic in that light, Sympathy for the Devil, it was a perfect twist on the tape that I filmed. That song contains the lyric: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you get what you need.” And red is truly your color Jorge, thanks for letting me tape you. A couple of the client families are shown and I shoot the tape so that I cut off their heads until I’m sure that it’s okay for me to film them. It’s not just bad camera operation; it was intentional.
Now let’s turn to a provider in Lowell that runs an actual soup kitchen. Food pantries deliver groceries to their clients; soup kitchens deliver a hot meal. Janet has been working at the Lowell Transitional Living Center going on 8 years now. LTLC is a clean and dry 90 bed facilty in Lowell, MA. They have what they call winter protocol so they don’t turn people away in the bitter cold, but the work they try to do in the community is a struggle everyday.
Janet sees the demand for her services “increasingly rising and it’s due to the facts of high rents and high utilities. You know people’s money just can’t stretch anymore like it could before. We play a crucial part in the community.” I agree, tune in to hear what’s on Janet’s mind. I present Janet in three clips, she had a lot to say about her work. The key take away I got from Janet is that the stereotype of poverty is a lie and that donations of time and money are sorely needed all year round and not just at the holidays.
Lowell Transitional Living Center
What are you doing today at the Merrimack Valley Food Bank?
“We’re shopping for our food for the week here. This is a very crucial place for us to come to because if it wasn’t for the food bank we wouldn’t be able to provide the services that we do to our clients. You know, because food is extremely expensive and we just couldn’t afford it otherwise.
How much does the food bank represent in your weekly food budget?
Well, uhh, probably breakfasts seven days a week. And lots of suppers, you know probably two or three meals during the course of the week.
How many people do you serve on a daily basis at the shelter?
We serve 600 people a day. We serve three meals a day. We do breakfast lunch and dinner. And we do an outreach program also.
What kind of staff do you utilize at the shelter?
We are a big staff. We have two people that run the kitchen and we have volunteers that come in and that’s it.
What would you like anyone watching to know about what you do?
It’s important to know that everybody that comes to the shelter is not drug or alcohol addicted. You know they don’t all have that problem. There’s a lot of people that, you know, a lot of these hospitals have turned out into the community that can’t fend for themself.
Mental health, there’s no mental health coverage.
There is none. They dump ’em… It’s a dumping ground, they just throw these poor people out and leave them on their own. You know some of these people are not regimented to taking their medication, you know when you really need someone to give you yours meds at 2, 6 and whatever so I mean you see a big problem with these people.
Yeah, when your living in a shack by the river it’s kind of hard to take your meds on time or even get your meds.
You got that right. Exactly. You know, and some people are not social. They don’t really want to come in or they’re very nervous. Some have been through a lot of traumatic things in their life and they’re afraid of everybody. They don’t trust anybody. To get them to trust in you is a real hard, hard thing. You have to really be there for them and you have to understand and know how they feel.
And you know the thing of it is and Amy or anyone you know in this industry can attest to it that people always remember us in the months of November and December and come January through October we’re really hurting big time. You know what I mean? It isn’t only at the holidays that these people are homeless [and hungry] they’re homeless year round.
And not only that but to provide them with the proper nutrition that we try to provide them with is very hard. You know, funds have been cut. They always cut human services. They always cut food programs. All the time. So it’s always the working poor that suffer for it. And the poor too.
Yeah because you have a hundred bed facility but you’re serving 600 people a day. So you’re serving people who are probably working and they have a place to live, but they don’t have enough money to feed themselves three times a day.
Exactly. You know, I mean in order to sustain them so that they don’t end up homeless this is what we do. This is why we try to help people. We try to figure out a budget for them and you always have that unexpected huge gas bill that you get in January that knocks your socks off.
I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. When you see gas prices go up you know what? We’re done. People are just cut right off at the waist because everything has got to go up. Food prices have to go up. So when it starts like that it’s like the domino effect. It just goes on and on and on. There’s just no end to it.
People don’t realize when you’re in the food industry you see a couple of bucks here a couple of bucks there you know and it’s like with eggs – even eggs. Eggs have gone up over ten dollars in the last year. And I especially notice this kind of stuff because I have to be accountable to someone for my budget. When you’re serving the huge amounts of people that we’re serving what am I going to do? How can I pick and choose who can eat and who can’t eat?
And you rely on volunteerism and donations to meet your budget…
Which you are in a state of fear and panic about at this point?
I am in a big state of panic, believe me. Amy knows that. I come in here and I moan and groan all the time. Oh my God.
Amy: That’s also part of the service. Our agencies don’t just get much needed food…
Yeah, they’re counseling their clients and you’re counseling your clients.
Amy: We’re all in the same boat.
We are all in the same boat
Amy: While we have this great warehouse space and we have access to so many donors a lot of our donors get referred to us by people like Janet. We’re always working together.
Then comes the shrimp story. Don’t miss this clip. The New Hampshire Food bank referred an enormous donation of shrimp from UNH to the Merrimack Valley Food Bank. Shrimp galore. This is a really funny clip when Janet tells us about how they served shrimp to their clients in every conceivable way possible. They also had to get a bunch of volunteers together to cut the heads off the shrimp right at MVFB in order to store the shrimp. During the summer. I tell Janet that I’ve heard once you get used to the smell of working with fish, you don’t really smell it anymore. She’s clearly not convinced.
Thanks for reading, watching whatever. People like Tony, Ken, Janet and Amy are out in our communities everyday filling the void and trying to do their part for all of us. It’s a vitally important role that they play and an essential service that they provide to all of us. They need out support and I think their work that they do day in and day out demands our respect and support.
What can you do to help? Donate money, food or time. Be aware of the problems these providers face in the work they do. Talk about it with your friends, co-workers and neighbors. Help in any way you feel comfortable. Remind people that the stereotype of povery is a lie. That’s one of the key take aways I’d like you to remember from these vlogs, that and the fact that volunteerism is the engine that keeps these organizations running. As Tony said: they’re fighting in the trenches everyday. Do your part to help and enable their success. That includes the school vacation and winter months outside of the holidays.
They need you know. As Project Bread says on their website: Contribute with confidence.
Related kos diaries on hunger:
Poverty, inequality and public health: dangerous directions by El Cabrero part 2 of 2 examinig the link between poverty and healthcare. Link to part 1 included in the diary
National Call-In Days Day Two: Worker Rights by eRobin because unions are the best anti-poverty program ever invented.
EDWARDS LEADS ON WORLD POVERTY & National Security Effects by citizen53 because no one does poverty and social justice like JRE
Frameshop: Elderly Women Eating from Garbage Cans by Jeffrey Feldman this diary is chock full of info and here he describes witnessing a woman on the Upper West Side in NYC eating out of a garbage can. Poverty is everywhere and it defies the stereotypes. Don’t forget that kids.
See you out there…