HATFIELD, MA (WGGB / WSHM) – Governor Charlie Baker called attention to food insecurity across the state during the COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday.
In western Massachusetts, demand increased dramatically during a pandemic with more and more families turning to food and kitchen banks during this uncertain period.
“This is a story that is playing in place after place in the Commonwealth,” Baker explained, Wednesday.
BOSTON (AP) – First round of grants for food production and distribution organizations that …
Today, Baker highlighted the increasing demand for food support among families across the state by announcing funding for many organizations that are trying to help.
“Three million dollars in immediate assistance to the food bank, which has played a key role in this initiative so far,” Baker added.
Food Bank of Western Mass. It is among those who see an increase in needs.
“We have seen an increase in demand that is quite extensive and it starts immediately in March when everything starts to close and really reminds quite high,” said Christina Maxwell, program director with Food Bank of Western Mass.
Maxwell told Western Mass News that the food bank initially saw a 20 percent increase in food distribution.
“… And about a third of the people we see are new to the emergency food system, so that’s much higher than in a normal month. When maybe 10 percent of the people we see are new people, now it’s 30 percent, “Maxwell said.
Maxwell said, fortunately, during this difficult time, supermarkets and local farmers had contributed to the food bank.
“We have also been assisted by federal and state programs. MEMA also provided some food boxes for us and we have enough food for the requests we are currently seeing, “Maxwell added.
However, the West Mass Food Bank said they must adapt new business models to help feed their struggling communities
“We have and our member agents own and our food pantry is distributing outdoors and where we eat offers food to go now, rather than sit-down meals,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell added that many volunteers throughout the emergency food system were elderly, so some were forced to leave, leaving the Food Bank of Western Mass. With fewer volunteers during the most demanding times.
“We have to adjust how we get things done and our staff has jumped into doing something they don’t usually need to do,” Maxwell said.
At present, with so much uncertainty surrounding the corona virus, Maxwell said they were preparing for an increase in demand in the coming months.
“If children don’t go back to school physically and if food isn’t available to them like in spring … I’m just not sure if that will be the case or not … then we expect more people in the kitchen and eating places us, “Maxwell noted.
With the CARES Act coming to an end at the end of this month, Maxwell believes this will encourage families who are struggling for emergency food programs.
If you want to help the Western Mass Food Bank, Maxwell says they are looking for volunteers. For more information, you can CLICK HERE.
Jessica Brewer, LMH Health
In January 2019, Just Food and LMH Health began discussing ways organizations can collaborate to serve the community. As the conversation began, the relationship between food insecurity and many health conditions began to become increasingly clear.
Elizabeth Keever, executive director of Just Food, said that with a partnership at LMH Health, they want to create something that provides warm resources and handoffs at the same time.
“When patients are discharged from the emergency department (ER), we want to make sure they have a food supply that can last for several days and is heart-healthy food,” he said. “With LMH Health, we created Emergency Meal Kits.”
The Emergency Food Kit contains a stock of items that are not perishable, providing patients who may not be safe food with healthy choices for days after discharge from the hospital. These bags can provide support for those who may not have enough food or may not have enough food to consume with medicines that require food.
“When patients leave the ER, we don’t want to just give them guidance that says what food they should eat, but show them and give them food they should eat,” Keever said. “Until now, LMH Health has provided 194 Emergency Food Kits for patients discharged from the ER. Namely 194 people we know go home carrying a healthy and sustainable food supply for at least two days. They were given a warm gift and, most importantly, they could eat. ”
Jan Wiebe, director of the Emergency Department, said that this partnership was truly extraordinary for ED and LMH Health. When food is needed in the ER, Just Food is there to ensure that patients are treated.
“There is a cabinet in the ER for the Emergency Food Kit,” he said. “When I saw that our inventory was getting low, I reached Just Food and immediately they brought 10-15 more bags to fill our inventory. It’s amazing how quickly food is provided and how much Just Food takes care of our patients and the Lawrence community. ”
Wiebe said that the bag was a great resource for staff to give to patients who came in and could benefit from one of the food packages.
Emergency food kit
“We have provided these bags to members of the community who are homeless, elderly patients with a steady income who may not have much money to spend on food and many others in the community,” he said. “Our doctors and nursing staff are happy to share these bags because the food is healthy and not processed properly.
Wiebe said, the need was there. Food kits can quickly change from full inventory to just a few left.
“This is an extraordinary collaboration – we have relied on food equipment,” Wiebe said. “Our social workers give it to patients who need it too. Many have been helped with this equipment and continue to amaze me with the incredible partnership we have with Just Food and the great success of these bags. ”
Allison Koonce, supervisor of LMH Health Community Outreach and Engagement, said that when the program showed success at LMH Health, the program also grew in the community.
“LMH Health started the Food Package Program in our Emergency Department and then expanded the program to the Department of Social Work and East Heights Clinic,” he said. “LMH Health can function as a pilot for the Healthy Food Package Program. When LMH Health and Just Food saw how well the program was running, Just Food expanded the Healthy Food Program and now provides packages to the Senior Resource Center. ”
Although the screening service was temporarily stopped due to COVID-19, Koonce mentioned that LMH Health also partnered with Just Food in other ways.
“LMH Health Staff conducts monthly checks on blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol for Just Food clients,” he said. “The first year we did more than 115 screenings and had done this 20 years before COVID-19 reached.”
Koonce said LMH Health wanted to provide convenient resources for community members and bringing the screening program to Just Food was the first step. As we grow together, we continue to strive to continue and advance the partnership we have. When things have changed and evolved over the years, Keever said Just Food awaits new and innovative ways to partner with LMH Health.
“Since COVID, many things have changed, but that does not mean our vision and mission have,” Keever said. “Our partnership has helped us identify health problems for those in our community who may not be aware of medical conditions that are at risk for them without the help of Just Food and LMH Health. The collaboration between these organizations is extraordinary and we are eager to continue to help clients and patients in the future. ”
Jessica Brewer is a specialist in social media and digital communication at LMH Health.