Hunger and food insecurity – not knowing when or where you’ll get your next meal – is real across Western Massachusetts and on the campus of the University of Massachusetts. Stephanie Pete had the courage to share her story of food insecurity at UMass earlier this year. Every year, more and more college students across the country face a similar situation. Just last month, the Baltimore Sun reported that “Nationwide, more than 280 colleges and universities now have food pantries.” In fact, UMass and the surrounding neighborhoods have the highest food insecurity rate in our region – 32 percent or 4,155 individuals.*
At the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, we’re deeply concerned about this reality because our mission is to feed our neighbors in need and lead the community to end hunger. Last year, we distributed almost 10 million pounds of food to more than 211,000 individuals at risk of hunger – the equivalent of 8.3 million meals. And the people who seek it out are college students, elders, children and veterans. They may be disabled, temporarily jobless or unemployed. Even working families on near-minimum wage incomes struggle to make ends meet and put food on their table.
Fortunately, people who go hungry can turn to a local food pantry for a bag of groceries or to a meal site for a hot meal. All told, there are more than 200 such local feeding programs across the four counties of Western Massachusetts: Hampshire, Hampden, Franklin and Berkshire counties.
The Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP) is a reliable source of healthy food for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and the other three regional food banks in the Commonwealth. We rely on MEFAP funding to purchase about a quarter of all of the food that we distribute, including vegetables from local farmers and other types of nutritious food.
At the Food Bank, we believe everyone has the right to healthy food, regardless of their circumstances.
We also know that we and our local partners cannot solve hunger alone. This epidemic is so great now that it will require everyone in society to become part of the solution.
We urge you to take action and be part of the short- and long-term solutions to ending hunger:
Action #1: If you’re registered to vote in Massachusetts, please call your state senator and representative, and urge them to support a $3 million increase in MEFAP funding so that we can feed more nutritious food to hungry households.
Action #2: Mark your calendars on Sept. 19 to participate in the first-ever UMass Hunger Action Day as part of national Hunger Action Month. We’ll kick off the pursuit of long-term solutions to end hunger on campus and in our region.
Will you embrace our vision of a Western Massachusetts where no one goes hungry and everyone has access to nutritious food? We hope so. Meanwhile, remember that if you or someone you know is food insecure, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and our local partners are here to help.
Executive Director, The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts