Winter months put further strain on struggling households
As the days and nights grow colder in Western Massachusetts, we are reminded of the thousands of low-income families that will be forced to choose between heat and hunger this winter season. High costs of heat will further strain the budgets of households already struggle to make ends meet, forcing them to turn to food pantries, soup kitchens and other community agencies to access emergency food. It most instances, these community agencies — many of which are experiencing a slump in donations following the holidays — find it increasing difficult to keep up with the high demand in the winter months.
In a recent report produced by Feeding America, it was determined that many families in Western Massachusetts that are struggling with food insecurity are already faced with crucial choices to keep food on the table. 61 percent reported choosing between paying for food and paying for utilities (such as heat and water). 59 percent reported having to make a choice between food and medicine/medical care. In addition, 53 percent reported choosing between paying for food and paying for housing.
When faced with these severe decisions, families are forced to make concessions to feed their families that they wouldn’t typically turn to. 40 percent reported eating food past its expiration date, and another 80 percent reported purchasing inexpensive, unhealthy food (which can lead to several health problems, especially in children, including increased rates of impaired cognitive and brain development, lowered immune response, short stature, and obesity).
That is why The Food Bank is working harder than ever to distribute more nutritious food (including fresh produce, meats and dairy) to our member agencies throughout the four counties of Western Massachusetts. Last year, we distributed nearly 10 million pounds of food, which is the equivalent of 8.3 million meals.
For many people at risk of hunger, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is the first line of defense, and offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible individuals and families across the country. Our SNAP Outreach team assists food insecure households to apply for the program and gather all of the necessary documentation in order to receive benefits. We are available to answer questions, provide pre-screening and determine eligibility.
Since 1983, The Food Bank has been delivering free bags of healthy groceries to thousands of low-income seniors through our Brown Bag: Food for Elders program. We provide nutritious groceries that enable elders to make easy meals and eat a balanced diet.
Our Mobile Food Bank program delivers a truck full of fresh and non-perishable groceries from our warehouse directly to a community site for immediate distribution to residents. It reaches the area’s underserved communities that don’t have access to healthy foods.
You have an opportunity to take action and support our community. In partnership with Hilltown Families, The Food Bank will be hosting our January Family Volunteer Day on Saturday, January 16 from 9 – 11 a.m. All ages are welcome, as families are invited to help prepare food to be distributed to our neighbors in need across Western Massachusetts. Reservations are required by contacting The Food Bank’s Education Coordinator at 413-247-9738 or sign up here. For more information about this event, as well as other ways you can take action, visit www.foodbankwma.org.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Wojcik is the Marketing & Communications Manager at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts is committed to feeding our neighbors in need and leading the community to end hunger. Founded in 1982, The Food Bank is the leading provider of emergency food that reaches individuals and families in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties. From their warehouse in Hatfield, they distribute food to their member agencies (which include food pantries, meal sites and shelters) throughout the region. They continue to build a stronger community through a variety of initiatives, including our Mobile Food Bank, SNAP outreach, nutrition education, and our Brown Bag: Food for Elders program.