Forty-seven percent of people in eastern Massachusetts who are at risk of going hungry earn too much to qualify for government assistance. Faced with food and housing costs higher than the national average in our area, and with many un- and underemployed, these families are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet.
The Greater Boston Food Bank’s (GBFB) response to the growing number of people at risk of hunger in our communities is a commitment to increase food distribution from 35 million pounds this year to 38.4 million pounds by 2013. That’s enough to provide approximately 29.6 millions meals – or the equivalent of one meal a day – for those at risk of hunger.
In announcing the ambitious new goal, Catherine D’Amato, president and CEO of GBFB, explained its rationale and the plan to achieve it. “We’re seeing more and more people who never imagined they would need a food pantry or community meal program to feed themselves and their families. This is a new reality for them, and for our community, and GBFB is expanding our programs to help.”
“To honor our commitment, we’ll need additional support from our dedicated donors and volunteers, who understand how our neighbors are hurting and want to help,” she continued. “We’ll also be expanding GBFB direct service programs to ensure we reach all those in need with at least one meal a day.”
More than 90% of the food distributed by GBFB is redistributed through its member agencies – a diverse network of about 550 food pantries, community meal programs, shelters and other emergency hunger-relief organizations located throughout eastern Massachusetts. But almost 3.5 million pounds of food is distributed by GBFB directly to targeted groups that are falling through the cracks of our larger safety net. GBFB direct distribution programs make sure families, children and seniors get the nutrient-rich food they need to stay healthy.
Programs Director, Paul Colligan, explains, “We’re developing and implementing these programs because we’re seeing un-met needs – for example, kids who depend on school meals are often going hungry over a long holiday weekend. So, we implemented the BackPack program. Now, we’re getting ready to test and launch a “mobile pantry” concept that will serve neighborhoods that have few other food assistance options and where it is often hard to find nutritious food. We’re bringing food straight into communities to the people who need it most.”
“Increasing the amount of food we distribute through the expansion of our direct service programs means GBFB will be working harder than ever,” adds D’Amato. “But we can only achieve these goals with the continued and increased support of the entire community. Everyone needs to know they have a role in ending hunger, and that together, we can end hunger here.”
Mobile Pantry is Food Oasis for Communities in Need
Earlier this month, GBFB launched the test phase of a significant expansion of its direct food distribution efforts by taking a truck filled with food, a “mobile pantry,” to the Germantown Neighborhood Center Food Pantry in Quincy. Clients there could supplement the bag of groceries they received from the pantry with additional fresh produce, meats, breads, and dairy products from the GBFB truck. The location was chosen in part because it sits in the middle of a “food desert,” the term for an area where healthy and affordable food is difficult to obtain.
“With more and more people at risk of hunger, some communities don’t have the food purchasing options and food assistance resources they need,” explains D’Amato. “Our expansion into this kind of mobile program is designed to address those gaps, and is a powerful response to a worsening problem.”
When fully implemented, GBFB’s expanded direct distribution efforts will help to ensure GBFB meets its goal to provide one meal a day to those in need. To achieve its goals, however, the program will need support from institutional and individual donors in the community. GBFB’s is actively seeking funding for this and other direct food distribution activities. Please visit GBFB.org to learn how you can help.
Expanding the BackPack Program
Children learn better when they’re well fed. With many parents trying to choose between paying rent and buying enough food to feed their kids, sometimes their sons and daughters don’t get enough healthy food to eat at home.
Since late 2009, GBFB’s BackPack program has been working with select schools to distribute high-quality, nutrient-rich packs of food to children in school districts where a high-percentage of students qualify for free or reduced price school meals. These children are given easy-to-prepare food to take home over a long weekend or other school break when they might be at-risk of going hungry.
Ann Garafalo, a principle at a school participating in the program says, “The BackPack Program is critical to the healthy development and academic success of the children in our school. The program helps make sure they receive the healthy food they need when away from school so they return on Monday ready to learn.”
Last year, the BackPack program gave food packs to 2,050 students twice a month. In fiscal year 2012, we will expand the program to reach 2,900 children in eastern Massachusetts each month. Major support for the program comes from: Target, Liberty Mutual Foundation, Morgan Stanley Foundation, Adobe Foundation, BNY Mellon and Eastern Bank Charitable Foundation.
To learn more about the BackPack Program, and how you can help, click here.
Newly Formed Partnership with DTA
The Greater Boston Food Bank is collaborating with the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) to distribute food to families in the Commonwealth who do not qualify for government benefits, such as food stamps (now called SNAP benefits), because their household incomes are more than twice that of the federal poverty level, currently $22,350 a year for a family of four.
“At DTA, we’ve been frustrated because we’ve had to turn more and more truly needy families away. They simply earn too much to qualify for SNAP, but still can’t afford enough food to eat,” explains John Shirley, DTA Regional Director. “This new partnership with GBFB opens the way to much-needed food assistance for a lot of struggling families.”
DTA’s collaboration with GBFB involves two key components:
First, DTA will identify those who earn too much to qualify for SNAP benefits, but are still at risk of hunger. DTA will provide these individuals with a voucher that will allow them to receive a box of produce and frozen meats at GBFB on designated distribution days. The boxes of food will also include information about emergency food assistance programs in our region, such as food pantries and community meal programs, that recipients can seek out and utilize until they get back on their feet again.
Second, GBFB will provide pre-packaged boxes of dry, shelf-stable foods for DTA to distribute to SNAP applicants who are in dire need as they wait for their food stamps to arrive. These food packages will be provided to DTA offices and given out when applicants have no other food resources to tide them over until their benefits arrive.
Bag of Groceries Helps Ensure One Meal a Day to Vulnerable Seniors and Children
The Greater Boston Food Bank’s “Brown Bag” program currently serves 13 communities and reaches over 7,400 seniors at risk of hunger every month. These supplemental groceries help ensure our elderly neighbors don’t miss meals and get enough of the nutritious food they need.
Each month, GBFB delivers a carefully planned selection of nutritious food items to community partners, where their staff and volunteers organize and fill grocery bags donated by long-time donor, Shaw’s supermarkets, for distribution to their clients. A typical bag might contain milk, cheese, pasta, rice, ground beef, tuna, green beans, peanut butter, and oatmeal, based on availability.
“Seniors need high nutrient, high protein food to help them remain active and healthy,” says Programs Director, Colligan. “GBFB provides this kind of food, which many older people on fixed incomes are finding it increasingly hard to afford. These seniors too often have to choose between paying rent or their heating bill and buying enough food to feed themselves or their families.”
To learn more about GBFB’s Brown Bag program, click here.
The Greater Boston Food Bank’s “Kids Cafe” program feeds close to 1,700 children a day, five days a week. A partnership with local Boys and Girls Clubs, the number of children showing up for free meals has grown significantly since the economic down turn. To learn more about the Kids Cafe program, click here.