As the holiday season approaches and cold weather sets in, food pantries in the region will be seeing more visitors. WAMC’s Berkshire Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports that in Western Massachusetts, demand for services is up, while food supply is low.
According to ProjectBread.org, a non-profit that tracks and advocates against hunger in the Commonwealth, food insecurity in Massachusetts is on the increase. That’s according to their 2012 Status Report on Hunger approximately 11.9% of families in the Commonwealth are struggling to put food on the table. And since 2008, when the economic recession began, that’s a 43% increase. The report also says that the growing rate of food insecurity illustrates a widening gap between low and high-wage earners.
The increase in need highlighted in the report by Project Bread is reflected at organizations like the Berkshire Food Project in North Adams, which supplies free meals to those in need. Executive Director of the Berkshire Food Project Valerie Schwarz…
Schwarz, who said the Food Project gets much of it’s food from local supermarkets and wholesalers, said as food prices go up it’s more difficult to stay supplied.
The Berkshire Food Project does benefit from contributions from the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, which distributes food to food shelters across Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire Counties. Alex Simisky, spokesman for the Food Bank, said that increased demand coupled with decreased funding from the Federal and Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Programs, is burdening shelters.
Simisky said some agencies are seeing upwards of 2,000 visitors a month, which he said is way up for this year.
For fiscal year 2013, the state budget for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program was increased by $500,000 to $13 million . $12 million is reserved for food, while the remainder heads to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, and the other 3 food banks across the state for oversight costs.
Alex Simisky said that the food bank does accept monetary donations to help those in need.
Simisky and Schwarz both said that foods rich in protein including meats and peanut butter are in high demand at local food pantries.
Project Bread estimates that 750,000 people in Massachusetts are “struggling to put food on the table”, which they say is the highest number they’ve seen in Massachusetts since the US Census Bureau began collecting the data in 1995. Project Bread recently awarded almost $200,000 dollars to food shelters in Western Massachusetts.