Young artists raise hunger awareness through ArtsFest exhibit in Longmeadow

March 23, 2023 | Sarah Heinonen

ight: Amelia French, a Longmeadow High School student, created a composite photo of a hungry teen surrounded by food waste.
Reminder Publishing photo by Sarah Heinonen

LONGMEADOW — A barren refrigerator, a plate and cutlery made of fast-food wrappers, a hungry teenage girl surrounded by a landfill of food – these images, depicted by the ArtsFest exhibit at the Richard Salter Storrs Library, reflect food insecurity in Western Massachusetts as seen by teen artists.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion defines food insecurity as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.”

“It’s a pretty prevalent problem. It’s increased due to COVID-19. Food insecurity has doubled for students since COVID-19 began,” said Franza Mazimpaka, co-president of the Rachel’s Table Teen Board.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Economic Research Service, “In 2020, [nationally], 85.2 percent of households with children were food secure, while 14.8 percent were food-insecure, up from 13.6 percent in 2019.” Feeding America, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit hunger relief organization, found that 42 percent of households in Hampden County were food insecure in 2020 and levels remained elevated in 2021, the latest year for which there is data.

Rachel’s Table Teen Board is an initiative through Rachel’s Table that engages teens in Western Massachusetts in hunger awareness campaigns and works to help reduce childhood hunger. ArtsFest was created in 2011 to give local teens a way to express themselves around the topic of hunger and raise awareness. This year the exhibit was funded through a special grant from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation.

Art submissions for the biennial exhibit span different mediums, from paintings to digital photography. The event was open to artists from under 13 to 18 years old. There were 14 submissions this year.
Mazimpaka’s co-president, Emmaline Pirnie said the theme for 2023 was “Growing Up with Food Insecurity.”

“Since our theme was Growing Up with Food Insecurity, it was definitely different in each person’s eye,” Mazimpaka said. The images utilized in the art ranged from empty plates and barren refrigerators to distracted students and people made of food.

“We wanted to get the community involved to raise awareness around food insecurity,” Pirnie said.
Each month, Rachel’s Table Teen Board participates in a different event to help with food insecurity. Pirnie explained that the board recently picked 800 pounds of apples and donated them to the Salvation Army, which runs shelters throughout the region. “Those apples were going to go to a waste,” Mazimpaka said. Another time, board members distributed boxes of milk to area shelters and organizations.

Mazimpaka said the work the board does creates community relationships that help bridge the divide “between people who need the food and the people who source the food.” Reflecting on the projects they participate in, Pirnie remarked, “It helps us be more aware of ourselves” and “aware of our resources.” She said she understands that not everyone grew up with the same access to resources as she did.

Food insecurity has many factors. Mazimpaka noted Springfield “may be a food desert for people who are looking for grocery stores,” but “there are at least 10 McDonald’s in the area,” leaving people to rely on fast food to feed their families. A study from the USDA’s Economic Research Service stated neighborhoods that are “farther than a specified distance from the nearest supermarket or large grocery store are considered areas of low access.” While the USDA examined food access in square kilometer grids, it should be noted that there is no uniform definition of a food desert.

Pirnie highlighted another aspect of food insecurity. “You can’t really look at food waste without looking at access to food,” she said. In her experience, Mazimpaka said, students are made to take the entire meal provided at school lunches, despite the fact that much of it is thrown away. Not only is that food wasted she said, but it goes into landfills and the gases produced by its decay impact the environment.

The exhibit will be on display through March 30 in the Betty Ann Lowe Room at the Storrs Library, 693 Longmeadow St. A canned food drive is running in conjunction with the exhibit. Learn more about Rachel’s Table at

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