A national study estimates food insecurity will continue to increase throughout 2020, with the number of people in Western Massachusetts who lack access to nutritious food growing more than 40,000.
The study was conducted by Feeding America, the country’s largest hunger relief organization. The projections are based on the organization’s annual study of local food insecurity and food costs in the US.
“This report confirms what we are witnessing in our region – a dramatic increase in requests for food assistance, including many new visitors to the local food pantry for the first time,” said Andrew Morehouse, executive director of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.
Study of Feeding America, titled “The Impact of Coronavirus on Local Food Insecurity,” published this week. It analyzes the level of food insecurity for the whole population and children by state, district and district congress.
Before the pandemic, 86,480 people, including 22,650 children, were classified as food insecurity in West Massachusetts.
The new study says this number is likely to grow by 40,610, including 13,970 children. That means around 127,090 people (one in seven) can experience food insecurity by 2020, including 36,620 children (one in four).
“As the high unemployment rate continues, more and more households are at risk of starvation and food insecurity – it is uncertain how they will buy food,” Morehouse said.
From March to April, the Food Bank distributes 19% more emergency food than is currently distributed in 2019. The regional network of 175 food pantry and eating places and the Food Bank serves about 20% more people, of which 27% are visitors just looking for food help. Application of Additional Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at Food Bank increased by 130%.
“With the increase in demand and the decline in donations of retail stores, we are buying a lot of food tractor trailers to be distributed to local food pantry and eating places,” Morehouse said. “In addition, we will soon begin receiving and distributing thousands of lunch boxes every month through emergency food initiatives funded by state and federal governments in response to the corona virus.”
The Food Bank has links to many farms in the region, which makes it possible to supply fresh produce to food kitchens and eating establishments.
“While the local agricultural season has just begun, we anticipate receiving more local products from a few dozen farmers,” Morehouse said. “As in recent years, we will buy about half a million pounds of fresh vegetables with the state fund MassGrown. Farmers are projected to contribute an additional half million pounds. This year, we hope to receive (Agriculture Department of the US Agriculture) Bank funding for the Food Bank to provide incentives to farmers to donate more vegetables and milk that they might let spoil. We will use these funds to fund farmers’ fees to collect, package and / or transport donated food. “
The Food Bank continues to find ways to not only provide food for those in need in Western Massachusetts, but also healthy and locally sourced choices whenever possible. In March, he bought the second Farm Food Bank in Hadley. The first is at Hatfield.
“We have contracted two large scale commercial farmers to grow organic vegetables on our farm,” Morehouse said. “We will receive part of the harvest as a substitute for cash to be distributed through our local food supply network. Most of the rest will be sold to local schools such as Springfield to feed at-risk young people in the school lunch program. “
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