| G. Michael Dobbs
September is Hunger Action Month across the country and locally the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts is undertaking activities to address the growing problem of food insecurity.
COVID-19 has made an impact on many aspects of American life and having enough to eat is one of them, Lillian Baulding Communications & Engagement Officer for the Food Bank explained to Reminder Publishing.
In Springfield, the largest community served by the Food Bank, food insecurity has risen 29 percent. She said in 2019 there were 26,120 people identified as food insecure, and today it’s 33,780 people.
In Holyoke there are now 8,306 people who are food insecure, a number that is up by 2,000 over last year.
“The numbers across the board are up,” Baulding noted.
In total at this time more than 93,000 people in Western Massachusetts face hunger, according to statistics released by the Food Bank. That number might increase to as high as 127,000 by the end of this year because of the pandemic.
Due to rising unemployment rates, the national food insecurity organization Feeding America estimates an additional 17 million people could become food insecure in 2020 as a result of this crisis, bringing the total to 54 million people.
“The rise in the number of people at risk of hunger due to COVID-19 only exposes the fact that hunger is also a pandemic, which has persisted for far too long in our region and across the country. Every action counts to raise awareness about and solutions to the pandemic of hunger and the tens of thousands of individuals it affects – children, elders, and families struggling to make ends meet on a minimum wage or now, increasingly, with no earned income,” said Andrew Morehouse, executive director of The Food Bank.
The Food Bank supplies food to 177 emergency food pantries and meal sites in the region, besides operating its own mobile food trucks, Baulding said the drivers for the trucks are seeing people who they have never seen before.
“It’s definitely a new world out there,” she said.
She said it’s anticipated that demand will increase in the next month or two as winter approaches and families will seek to stock up.
The Food Bank is sponsoring activities to increase awareness of the problem as well as raise funding.
The 10th Annual Will Bike 4 Food will take place all month as a virtual event. Cyclists of all ages will be able to ride anytime, anywhere, raising funds to provide healthy meals for households at risk of hunger. Special, virtual fitness classes will be offered to participating cyclists. Go to https://www.foodbankwma.org/events/wb4f/ to register.
On Sept. 10, the Food Bank asks people to wear orange for Hunger Action Day: Go Orange Day. Sharing photos on social media builds greater awareness of food insecurity.
During September, the Food Bank is seeking additional volunteers to assist in its mission. For example, The Food Bank is in need of volunteers to help pack and sort food in our warehouse facilities in Hatfield. Individuals interested in lending a hand can contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.