Op-ed: Fighting Hunger in Western Massachusetts
This Thanksgiving season, I'm grateful to live in a vibrant, prosperous state and nation. Yet despite the abundance all around us, there are still too many children in our community who are going to bed without dinner. This is a vital challenge we must work together to solve.
Unfortunately, there is particular need in Western Massachusetts, where the hunger rate is higher than the state average. More than 210,000 people in Western Massachusetts struggle to have an adequate food supply, according to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, which provides food assistance to 15,000 local residents each week. One out of every five children in Hampden County has uncertain access to the food they need to live a healthy lifestyle.
Hunger is not easy to see even among our neighbors and friends. Many families are only one illness, accident or lost job away from having enough healthy food. One-third of households needing help, for example, have at least one working adult, but still do not earn enough to make ends meet. More than half must choose between paying for food and other living costs, including utilities, gas, rent, mortgage or medical care.
This problem is entirely preventable. Through smart policies, we can ensure that all families have access to adequate meals during hard times, while supporting our local agricultural economy in the process.
A strong first step is to continue supporting our local food banks, which play a vital role in providing readily accessible resources during hard times. In the Senate, I co-sponsored a successful funding increase for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program, which provides vital support to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and similar organizations. I also co-sponsored a measure funding the Massachusetts Food Trust Program, which ensures that citizens have access to quality food in urgent circumstances.
Fostering partnerships between local food growers and nearby residents also helps fight hunger, while promoting local agriculture in the process. For this reason, I co-sponsored funding for Massachusetts "Buy Local" groups, which generate new customers for our local farmers and also provide communities with fresh local food options. Many local farms in Hampden and Hampshire Counties participate in this program.
I also support our local farmers' markets, as well as our community supported agriculture programs, where people can get help buying shares of a local farm harvest. In addition, innovative programs like the School Sprouts Educational Gardens help show our children that it's possible to make healthy food choices even when resources are scarce.
Rachel's Table, Loaves and Fishes Kitchen, the Springfield Rescue Mission, Project Bread, Friends of the Homeless, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, the Mayflower Marathon and many other hunger-fighting efforts further help those among us struggling to keep food on the table.
Together, we can and must ensure that one of the most basic necessities of life is accessible to all families, both during the holiday season and at all other times of the year. I'm proud to champion those efforts at the Statehouse. Eric P. Lesser is State Senator for the First Hampden & Hampshire District.
*** Food Banks and Related Organizations: Donation Information
The Food Bank of Western Mass By Mail: The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts PO Box 160 Hatfield, MA 01038 Attn: Development Department By Phone: 413-247-9738 x108 Online: https://www.foodbankwma.org/donate/one-time-donation/
Open Pantry Community Services By Mail: P.O. Box 5127, Springfield, MA 01101-5127. By Phone: (413) 737-5354 Online: http://openpantry.org/donate.php
Springfield Rescue Mission By Mail: 19 Bliss Street, P.O. Box 9045, Springfield, MA, 01102-9045 By Phone: (413) 732-0808 Online: https://www.hope4springfield.org/donate-online
Project Bread By Mail: 145 Border Street, East Boston, MA 02128-1903 By Phone: (617)-723-5000 Online: http://www.projectbread.org/ways-to-give
Friends of the Homeless By Mail: 755 Worthington Street Springfield, MA 01105 By Phone: (413) 732-3069 Online: https://www.fohspringfield.org/index.php/ways-help/donate/