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.
I got this heads up from MVFB in an e-mail:
Please join the Merrimack Valley Food Bank on Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 11:00 a.m. for Hunger Day on the Hill ? Nurses Hall, State House, Boston, MA.
Representatives from the Massachusetts food banks and our nearly 800 member hunger-relief agencies across the state will gather to highlight the critical importance of the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP) in the fight against hunger in our state.
We have also invited Governor Deval Patrick, Senate President Robert Travaglini, House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, Senate Ways & Means Chair Therese Murray and House Ways & Means Chair Robert DeLeo to join us for Hunger Day on the Hill.
Since 1993, MEFAP has played a crucial role in helping the Massachusetts food banks?through their networks of frontline hunger-relief providers?get nutritious foods directly to people most in need.
I look forward to seeing you on March 13th in Nurses Hall. For more information, please contact Amy L. Pessia, Executive Director, at (978) 454-7272 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you want to contact your legislator directly try this link: General Contact List for Massachusetts State Assembly
and now for our regularly scheduled vlog …
First 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 2005, 3.6 million seniors 65 and older were in poverty, an increase from 3.5 million in 2004.
- In 2004, 65.1% of food pantry users received food from at least one of the three largest federal food assistance programs which are the Food Stamp Program (FSP), The National School Lunch Program (NSLP), and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
- A2H estimates that 42.6% of all clients served reside in rural/suburban areas. 26.9% of households with children reside in suburban areas and 28.5% of households with children reside in rural areas.
- Rural poverty: The nonmetro poverty rate has exceeded the metro poverty rate every year since poverty was first officially measured in the 1960s. The largest majority (340 of 386) of persistent poverty counties are located in non-metro areas
- 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.
Recap from last week
The hunger situation in Massachusetts has changed dramatically in the last couple of years. Although Massachusetts is one of the wealthier states in the country, that one factor alone contributes negatively to the hunger situation. Counterintuitive perhaps, but this is what Project Bread has to say about the alarming trend:
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 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
January 11, 2007
… 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.
Emphasis mine, this one change could do so much good in our communities.
Even though discussions or studies about hunger in America tend to focus on the low income members of our society, the fact is that hunger is on the rise in the suburbs and is startlingly pervasive in affluent communities all over the country. According to A2H, most suburban poverty is in the western and southern states, but hunger among the suburban poor is growing at an alarming rate in the Mid-West and the Northeast too. Many workers are losing jobs that they could live on only to take jobs that they can’t live on. Do the math.
From a Newsweek report this month:
?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…
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.
Okay, so that’s the situation today. So now let’s turn to how people working in our communities deliver the food and services vital to alleviating hunger.
Video: Amy Pessia – Intro (4:21)
What is a food bank and how does it work?
Here’s Amy Pessia, Executive Director of the Merrimac Valley Food Bank. In this intro clip she discusses who her customers are and lets us know the important difference between a food bank like hers and a food pantry or soup kitchen. Food banks are the wholesalers in the supply chain. Pantries and kitchens are the retailer. The food bank takes in as much as they can from government and donated sources. They do their best to load up their clients with as much food as they can. Food pantry’s give out groceries directly to their customers while soup kitchens go the extra mile and serve a nutritious hot meal to their clients who might not get one otherwise. MVFB also has a unique program called the Mobile Food Pantry. You’ll see that in a later clip, that one is Amy’s pride and joy.
Video: MVFB Tour (8:20)
Here’s a look at the facility.
I’ve got to hand it to Amy and the rest of the gang at MVFB, shaking the trees doesn’t quite describe what they’re doing in terms of the donated product they get from great companies in the area. Again, the Food Bank takes in products from multiple streams of government and donated sources then they fill their providers’ orders as best they can. They have some great companies that they can count on to help fill their customers’ needs. The entire facility was donated by Lowell Fruit Company.
Here’s a brief list of what I saw that particular day. I’m putting this here because I think it’s important to single out these generous companies for the vital role they play in our communities.
- Hannaford Supermarkets ? Lowell and Chelmsford, MA
- Best Foods Bakery Woburn, MA.
- Stonyfield Farm of Londonderry, NH. They donate all kinds of stuff including frozen yogurt. They even have a blog and they sell great organic milk now.
- Hans Kissel Prepared Foods
- Strawberry Frappucinos courtesy of Epic Enterprises of Ayer, MA
- Ken’s Salad Dressings. Looks like Ken’s has cornered the charitable giving market here. They had a lot of Ken’s.
- Joseph’s Gourmet Pasta of Haverhill, MA. Lobster ravioli and pesto sauce for the poor. Only in Massachusetts – kids.
- Boston Coffee Cake, my personal favorite indulgence.
- Weetabix Cereals, a big source of this nutritious pantry staple at MVFB.
— Anybody else have a shout for a company that they know in their area? Put up a comment.
Direct donations, what do they do with all that stuff we donate?
Amy talks about the food that MVFB receives as direct donations from the public. This food is considered the most valuable in the whole facility. Amy has some great ideas for theme giving and wants us to remember that sometimes ethnic foods like rice noodles or rice wine vinegar are in very high demand at a food bank so consider that kind of giving as well. Also, low sodium or low sugar products are greatly appreciated by these providers and are in high demand for people with dietary restrictions.
The reason that the donated food is so valuable is because it “expands the meal.” So I would suggest giving anything that you like to have around the house to round out your own meals. Also consider snacks, they may not be the most nutritious items in your pantry, but chances are if you a like a particular treat then someone else will also like that very same treat. Treats are important.
If you watch these videos you can see that I’m very up with peanut butter and tuna fish, but if you want to give something like peanut butter then consider the extras that make a pb&j delicious. The jelly or jams, strawberry and raspberry, could really help. If you like Fluff or Nutella then give a couple jars of that. Again, that “expands the meal,” and who wouldn’t love to find a jar of delicious jam or Nutella in their box of gro
ceries from a food pantry.
The MVFB Mobile Food Pantry and the importance of volunteerism.
In this clip Amy talks about the Mobile Food Pantry Program in residence at MVFB. They’re the only ones around with this type of community outreach and it’s vitally important. Sometimes seniors can’t get out to a pantry or soup kitchen, that’s especially true in the winter when a slip and fall on the ice could destroy your world with a serious injury.
Amy tells us that they do the whole thing with 3 staff members and 90+ volunteers. They fill each of their nearly 300 orders with packages appropriate to each of their customers individually. In this clip you also get to meet Suellen O’Neill, the Mobile Food Pantry coordinator, and some Mormons doing their mission years in Lowell. Two are from Utah and one is from Brazil, they take care of Amy and Suellen and they really put in the hours helping out with whatever they can do for MVFB. Thanks guys.
Video: Food Stamps (5:04)
What is up with food stamps in Massachusetts?
Massachusetts has the lowest rate of participation in the Federal Food Stamp Program of any state in the country. Providers like Amy need to use this tool available to the general public as, well – another tool they have in their arsenal in their fight to end hunger in our communities. Like the report in Newsweek featured above in this vlog states: “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.” Every little bit helps and the greatest part of food stamps is that you can pick what you want at any supermarket, within reason – of course.
For more information on availability in your area contact:
- The Food Stamps Program
- gettingfoodstamps.org if you live in Massachusetts
- Or call the Project Bread Food Source Hotline 1-800-645-8333 if you live in Massachusetts
- You could also inquire directly at your food pantry and they’ll hook you up
The link between poverty and obesity.
Amy talks a lot in these clips about nutrition and wholesome food choices and the importance of educating her clients. At the Project Bread website they have a stunning chart pictured here. It shows just how hard it is for a family on a strict budget to enjoy healthy choices weekly. The link between poverty and obesity is a trend seen all over the country. Again, this is counterintuitive but it’s also the truth.
Look at the two shopping lists from Project Bread to see why.
Recently, this past month, I went to the supermarket and bought one of those bags of grapes. Grapes are a big fruit staple in my home along with oranges, bananas and apples. I just love grapes. When the cashier rang up the item it cost more than nine dollars. It cost more than nine dollars for a bag of grapes that will last me half the week. It really is true that if you need to cut corners on a regular basis then you gravitate to starchy fatty foods to satisfy your hunger. Sometimes a healthy alternative is a luxury that a family can ill afford. It’s so wrong, but it’s so true.
Video: Wrap Reel (4:14)
The wrap reel
Deb Luna tells us about a great idea the girls at MVFB have to promote awareness and “put an end to hunger one pair of earrings at a time.” Ritajayne Rivera of mustlovejewelry.com has magnanimously donated her time to the cause by offering these cool earrings of sterling silver loaves of bread. Deb tells us that it’s a conversation starter, I agree. The earrings are 25.00 total and you can buy them directly at the website for Loaf of Bread Earrings.
They are adorable. From her website: ?Recently I have decided to use my artistic talent and create a piece of jewelry that will benefit those in need. The earrings are called Loaf of Bread earrings. My hope is that through the sale of these earrings we can put a huge dent in the struggle to end hunger in the United States.? Thanks Ritajayne, they are available in magenta, seen here in this video, azure and amber.
In this clip Amy wraps up this vlog with some comments that I want to highlight. This is what it’s all about for me; this is why I did this vlog. I can’t believe I lucked out in such a big way with MVFB.
Here’s how Amy closes it out for us today:
It’s a constant balancing act between getting enough food in here and getting enough funds in here to meet our budget. But we’re proud to say that we are a pretty cost effective organization. We have minimal expenses and usually we’re pretty tight fisted when it comes to spending…
[You get creative…]
Exactly, absolutely and we’ve become pretty thick skinned and pretty bold if you will because we have to be. All of our hearts are in this organization. I don’t think any of us could work here if we were here for the money.
[If you weren’t invested in the ultimate cause]
Exactly. And we truly care about our member agencies and the folks that they serve because any one of us could be on the other side.
[Right – because you’re one illness away from needing milk, cheese and hamburger from somebody.]
Thank you, Amy Pessia, Suellen O’Neill, Deb Luna, Lionel Gardner, Bob Sevigny, Tammy Gagnon, Jackie McDonagh, Connie McVey, everyone at MVFB including the board of directors, volunteers , all the other food banks out there and every single one of our providers serving all of us in all of our communities for being that Somebody.
Next week I talk to a couple of providers one on one.
And shrimp, oodles and oodles of shrimp.
See you out there…