Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Local Pioneer Valley food banks aim to fight hunger

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(Daily Collegian Archives)

(Daily Collegian Archives)

As Thanksgiving looms closer, food banks throughout the Pioneer Valley are working extensively throughout the month of November  to provide local low-income residents with the appropriate amount of food supplies they need.

The Amherst Survival Center, which is located about two miles north of the University of Massachusetts, is an organization that provides Hampshire and Franklin county residents with clothing, healthcare and food – and it is currently experiencing its busiest month of the year.

“This time of the year we see the most families come into our food pantry,” said executive director Mindy Domb.

The center’s Fresh Food Distribution program allows residents to pick up fresh produce and baked goods, while also providing free hot lunch from noon to 1 p.m.

The Amherst Survival Center receives donations from local farms, supermarkets and bakeries, such as Atkins Farms, Glazed Doughnut Shop and Trader Joe’s. The organization is also supported by food drives, like the drive conducted by Pioneer Valley Transit Authority each fall, and by private food donations.

ASC has also utilized volunteers from the community to stock pantry shelves and assist participants.

Domb explained that when the holidays roll around, the Amherst community comes together to support those less fortunate.

“In Amherst, we’re pretty lucky because the town and the community is very concerned with giving,” she said. “The society is sort of plugged in to sharing.”

Domb said that although the holidays are the busiest time for the Amherst Survival Center, it also receives the most support.

“This is the time of the year when people who have are really focused on paying attention to those who don’t have and making sure they get what they need,” she said.

However, she emphasized that the center needs contributions year round, and it is necessary to keep up the giving spirit no matter the time of year.

The Northampton Survival Center also aims to provide fresh food for residents in Hampshire County. The Center is currently feeding over 4,700 residents in 18 communities throughout Hampshire by distributing about 2,500 pounds of food every weekday, executive director Heidi Nortonsmith said.

Through its locations in Northampton and Goshen, the NSC food pantry distributes approximately 650,000 pounds of food every year.

“(It’s) a matter of making sure that kids go to school with breakfast in their bellies, and that seniors don’t go without food in order to afford their medications,” Nortonsmith said.

Every time a client picks up some groceries, they work one-on-one with a volunteer to put together a package that meets with their needs in their household, she said.

The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts has been committing to fight hunger in the Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire counties since 1982. The organization addresses the issue of the ongoing lack of food availability for lower income families.

“Currently, there are more than 235,000 people in Western Massachusetts that rely on the services of The Food Bank and our member agencies,” Chris Wojcik, marketing and communications manager, said. “There are many factors that contribute to this growing social problem, including stagnant wages, lack of high-paying jobs, and lack of access to healthy food.”

The group receives the food they distribute through a number of sources, including state government programs like the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program, the federal government through the Emergency Food Assistance Program, local farms, retail and wholesale food businesses, local organizations and donations from individuals.

The Food Bank also provides fresh foods to families that may have been unable to obtain it themselves.

“When families do not live near a source of fresh and nutritious food, like a grocery store or farmers market, they are left to shop at corner stores that sell unhealthy, heavily processed food. Fast food chains become a replacement for a healthy home-cooked meal,” Wojcik said.

“As a result, low-income families experience significantly higher rates of obesity, diabetes and other nutrition-based diseases,” he said.

The organization also makes use of the volunteer assistance to meet their goal combating hunger.

“They sort and pack incoming food donations, which can then be distributed to our agencies, or through our own feeding programs,” Wojcik said.

He added that volunteers also assist staff at fundraising events held by the Food Bank throughout the year and help pack emergency food items, which they distribute at the organization’s different programs.

Shelby Ashline can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @shelby_ashline. Danny Cordova can be reached at [email protected]

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