Food insecurity rising in western Mass. amid pandemic

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  • Food Bank of Western Massachusetts staffer Catie Gralenski loads a case of Campbell's Spaghettios onto a cart in the warehouse of the Food Bank in Hatfield on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. The items are some of those purchased with funds from the Millions of Meals Initiative by the Antonacci Family Foundation. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Food Bank of Western Massachusetts Executive Director Andrew Morehouse, foreground and Frank Antonacci, background, talk to the media following an announcement about the Millions of Meals Initiative by the Antonacci Family Foundation outside the Food Bank in Hatfield on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Frank Antonacci, spokesman for the Antonacci Family Foundation, talks about the foundation's Millions of Meals Initiative outside The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts in Hatfield on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. Antonacci announced that the initiative has reached a milestone of $250,000, with each dollar collected representing four meals. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Frank Antonacci, left, spokesman for the Antonacci Family Foundation, and Andrew Morehouse, Executive Director of The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, talk about the Millions of Meals initiative by the foundation in the warehouse of the Food Bank in Hatfield on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Lillian Baulding, communications and engagement officer at the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, opens a box of food items from a federal program assembled for one person in the warehouse of the Food Bank in Hatfield on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Food Bank of Western Massachusetts Executive Director Andrew Morehouse talks about the Millions of Meals Initiative by the Antonacci Family Foundation during an announcement about the initiative outside the Food Bank in Hatfield on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hatfield Select Board Chairwoman Diana Szynal talks about the Millions of Meals Initiative by the Antonacci Family Foundation during an announcement about the initiative outside The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts in Hatfield on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Mike Cortis, manager of food operations at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, holds a case of Campbell's Spaghettios that was purchased with funds from the Millions of Meals Initiative by the Antonacci Family Foundation. Photographed in the warehouse of the Food Bank in Hatfield on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Easthampton at-large city councilor Lindsey Rothschild talks about the Millions of Meals Initiative by the Antonacci Family Foundation during an announcement about the initiative outside The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts in Hatfield on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. She is joined by her son, Sasha, 7½, and their dog, Hairy. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Food Bank of Western Massachusetts volunteer Nancy Pick, left, of Sunderland and staffer Tina LaValley separate and pack donated food items from Big Y Foods at the Food Bank in Hatfield on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 6/3/2020 6:35:53 PM

HATFIELD — Up to a quarter of all children in western Massachusetts may not know where their next meal will come from, or may not easily be able to get fresh and healthy food, as hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic continue, according to a new study.

The report by Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States, anticipates a substantial increase in food insecurity and hunger in the region and organizations like The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts are already feeling the impact. The Food Bank has already distributed 19% more emergency food in March and April this year compared to the same months last year.

Food Bank Executive Director Andrew Morehouse suspects that this demand will continue to increase as unemployment remains high, making a recent virtual food drive known as the Millions of Meals Initiative critical to keeping the food supply intact for Pioneer Valley residents.

On Wednesday, in the parking lot outside the nonprofit’s large Hatfield facility, the Food Bank and the Antonacci Family Foundation announced that the initiative reached a milestone of $250,000, with each dollar collected representing four meals.

“That’s one million meals we’ve been able to provide now that we wouldn’t have been able to two months ago,” Morehouse said.

The virtual food drive kicked off last month with a $125,000 donation that Frank M. Antonacci, chief operating officer of USA Waste & Recycling and spokesman for the foundation, said served as a way to rally support in the communities the company serves.

“The upcoming challenge is we do not forget those who have been harmed far beyond any end date to the pandemic,” Antonacci said.

Making financial contributions was seen as the most efficient way to increase the amount of food that could be distributed in the region, said Dennis Murphy, president of Ventry Associates, which handles business relations for the foundation.

“The idea was to encourage the community to rally and recognize the hardships caused by COVID,” Murphy said.

Morehouse said that the Food Bank supports 51 Brown Bag: Food for Elders sites in western Massachusetts, 21 of which are in Hampshire and Franklin counties, five mobile food pantries in the area, in Easthampton, Amherst, Greenfield, Turners Falls and Ware, and various agencies and nonprofits, such as the Amherst Survival Center, Easthampton Community Center, Center for Self Reliance in Greenfield and the Franklin County Community Meals Program.

Hatfield Select Board Chairwoman Diana Szynal said the town takes pride in hosting the Food Bank and its service in providing healthy food to people and giving local farmers a place for their products to get to people.

Szynal praised the Antonacci Family Foundation and the people who have donated to the effort because of the local impact. ”When you make donations it’s staying here and feeding people locally,” Szynal said.

In Northampton, the pandemic has exacerbated the situation for families and children facing hunger, said Alan Wolf, chief of staff for Mayor David Narkewicz. Wolf said the city is grateful for the financial support its programs are receiving.

Similarly, Easthampton relies on support from the Food Bank, said City Councilor Lindsey Rothschild. She added that it was nice to have some great news to share with her community.

How the money raised has been used can be seen firsthand inside the facility, where shelves are lined with thousands of pounds of food from federal and state programs, local and Food Bank farms, supermarkets and wholesale and retail food businesses, and community organizations and individuals.

Staff use forklifts, and their own muscles, to put the boxes on the shelves and into freezers, while volunteers make other boxes that will be brought to mobile food pantries.

Mike Cortis, who manages food operations at the Food Bank, said several orders using money from the Millions of Meals Initiative have focused on shelf-stable items, such as canned soups and different types of pasta. This has allowed the Food Bank to keep the shelves well-stocked.

Morehouse said the only issue with using the virtual food drive money has been whether product arrives in a timely manner, with some shipments delayed due to the pandemic.

Rising food insecurity

The need is not expected to slow down, as the Feeding America report, titled “The impact of the Coronavirus on Local Food Insecurity,” shows that as many as one in seven adults, and one in four children, are food insecure.

Even before the pandemic, 86,480 people and 22,650 children in western Massachusetts did not have adequate access to nutritious food to live a healthy life. Estimates are that there’s been a 47% increase, to 127,090 people, and even larger 62% increase to 36,620 children, in food insecurity in the last year.

In Hampshire County, 13% of the population, or 20,570 individuals, are considered food insecure, an increase of 56%, or 7,380 people. For children, 17%, or 4,180, are considered food insecure, representing an 86% increase in the past year.

In Franklin County, 14% of the population, or 9,650 individuals, are considered food insecure, an increase of 53%, or 3,330 people. For children, 20%, or 2,480, are considered food insecure, representing a 71% increase.

In Berkshire County, 15% of the population, or 19,300 individuals, are considered food insecure, a 52%, or 6,640-person increase. For children, 23%, or 5,090, are considered food insecure, representing a 67% increase.

Finally, in Hampden County, 17% of the population, or 77,570 individuals, are considered food insecure, an increase of 43%, or 23,360 people. For children, 24%, or 24,870, are considered food insecure, representing a 56% increase.

“As high unemployment persists, more households are at risk of hunger and food insecurity, uncertain how they are going to afford to buy food,” Morehouse said.

Those interested in donating to the Millions of Meals Initiative should visit the Food Bank website at https://www.foodbankwma.org/donate/donate-now-2/.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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