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Area food bank to participate in national hunger study

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts is seeking volunteers to participate in a national report on food insecurity called Hunger in America 2014.

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts is seeking volunteers to participate in a national report on food insecurity called Hunger in America 2014. Purchase photo reprints »

— The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts is seeking volunteers to help with a national report on food insecurity, called Hunger In America 2014.

The volunteers will receive comprehensive training and then be sent out into the field to conduct surveys and interviews with clients, volunteers and staff at food pantries, shelters and soup kitchens across the four counties of western Massachusetts. They will be provided with tablet computers, and all the data will be recorded digitally.

“It’s really a way to not only understand the extent of hunger in our region, but to then cast light on it, to expose the hidden face of hunger in our region so that we can raise public awareness about how extensive and sobering the reality is,” said Andrew Morehouse, the Food Bank’s executive director. He said the effort will offers insight into the depth and breadth of hunger in western Massachusetts.

The Food Bank will participate in the study along with nearly 200 other food banks nationwide. The Feeding America network is spearheading the project.

The Food Bank participated in the 2010 version of the study, which resulted in a detailed report that revealed some startling findings.

“About a third of the people who receive emergency food assistance, either directly from the Food Bank or from one of our member agencies, are kids living in a food-insecure home and who are under 18,” said Sarah Gibbons, the Food Bank’s communications and marketing director. “That was a stark reality.”

The study, slated to take place every four years, is the largest analysis of charitable food assistance in the United States and provides data on people being served by the emergency food network, according to Food Bank officials. “It’s really a comprehensive study that doesn’t just look at salary demographics or salary lines, or age and race demographics,” said Gibbons. “It’s something that looks a little deeper into the root causes of hunger and into what people are actually experiencing, and compiles that data to give us kind of a more accurate, complete picture of the people who are actually facing hunger,” she said.

Gibbons said the 2010 study showed that nearly 1 of every 5 children in the region is considered food-insecure; a rate that is nearly equal to the national average of 1 in 6 children, and disproportionately higher than the overall local hunger rate, which is generally lower than the national rate.

The study also revealed that around 70 percent of area clients reported having to make tough choices between food and other necessities, such as paying rent or buying medicine, she noted.

Gibbons said that the Food Bank used the information provided by the 2010 report to inform its outreach to individuals who might need assistance and to increase the organization’s SNAP, or food stamp, outreach.

The Food Bank will hold training sessions for volunteers April 2 from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. and April 7 from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Food Bank’s headquarters at 97 North Hatfield Road in Hatfield.

Morehouse said that the research and surveying is expected to take several months to complete, and that volunteers should plan on committing to at least nine hours of surveying, which will be spread out over three sessions of three hours each at different locations. Anyone interested in volunteering should call 247-9738.

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