Category: December 2018

Food Insecurity Screenings

Dr. Vinny Biggs, | Pediatrician, Holyoke Health Center
Member of the Coalition to End Hunger’s Service Integration Team

I am a pediatrician with the Holyoke Health Center and we have partnered with The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts on a project funded by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts doing food insecurity screening of our patients and families. The Coalition to End Hunger has developed a referral network to offer many resources beyond food access. In addition to doing a wonderful job of connecting families to SNAP benefits and food access sites (including mobile food trucks), they are also providing referrals for housing support, early childhood education, employment training, home heating and more.

As a provider, we struggle to provide tangible and effective ways to improve our patients’ health and well-being. We know that the social determinants of health (housing, food, education, transportation, healthcare access, etc) are critical to improving health, especially chronic disease. You can imagine how difficult it would be to pay attention in school or manage your diabetes or hypertension if you don’t have adequate nutrition or any of the social determinants of health. This project allows us to directly refer our patients to The Food Bank and they then reach out and connect them to necessary services that can be life changing and so critical to the improvement in their health and well-being.

With a few clicks of the mouse in their electronic health record, the referral is done and we have empathically, efficiently and, in real time, made a difference in the lives and health of the families that entrust us with their care. This program is a unique opportunity and collaboration that I hope continues for a very, very long time.

Happy Holidays

Rene Kane | Member of Communication and Education Team
Coalition to End Hunger

A new friend recently inquired about my holiday gift shopping. “Have you bought many presents yet? How does your family negotiate the protocol of gifts for adults? Do you follow the rules you set?”

As I read his note recounting all the joy he experiences from the holidays and gift exchanges, I considered how to best respond to his questions. I didn’t want to lie or sound ungrateful. I didn’t want to sound whiny or be perceived as having a victim mentality. And I certainly didn’t want to divulge that holidays are difficult for me.

So I simply didn’t respond and, instead, changed the subject.

This isn’t a story about religion or political arguments with crazy uncles around the holiday table. This is a story about “not enough.” You see, I don’t have enough resources to be as generous as my friend, to joyfully indulge and laugh about the crazy gifts we exchange or to pour my resources into others. My truth is that I can’t afford the luxury of giving without contemplating not paying a bill in order to do it.

With the exception of the past year, I have always worked. Through this recent period of unemployment, I am grateful to have had the support of family, friends and unemployment benefits while I’ve reevaluated what the next chapter is. This period of time has been a privilege that I couldn’t truly afford. But moreover, even as a working professional for most of my life, I’ve been poorly paid for my work, expertise and effort.

Fortunately, I have never gone hungry (at least, not yet). I have never been in the situation where one in eight of our neighbors find themselves. But I am one very small step away. One very fragile, bowed wooden *porch-step from hunger, or even homelessness. Most people do not have the kind of support from friends and relatives that I do, like those who can simply give them a car when theirs finally comes to the end of the road or send a monthly check to help offset expenses.

Pride, guilt and shame are major stumbling blocks in the world of stigma and vulnerability. As a member of the Coalition to End Hunger’s Communication and Education Team, I’ve been working to address reducing the stigma of “not enough” for the public. Yet, the stigma has stopped me from sharing my own current circumstances with my cohorts.

Believe me, the irony is not lost on me. It makes me nauseous to expose this publicly, and worse yet, to my new friend. I’m worried about condescending judgement, sad looks and losing respect. But what I’m most concerned about is being seen as less than a completely self-sufficient, intelligent, competent and contributing part of society, and within relationship.

Publicizing this scares the hell out of me. I really do not want to talk about it, to expose myself so vulnerably.

This problem of hunger and “not enough”* in our society, is not one of laziness. The source of poverty in America is political and systemic. Unfortunately, discussing the subject honestly is riddled with stigma and a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” lie. There are plenty of examples of people who work hard and drag themselves out of poverty. But the overwhelming numbers expose that fact that there are far more people who work hard yet never overcome the barriers of poverty. And those barriers create a troubling, mostly unending, cycle of having barely enough. And you know us.

The problem isn’t “how do we get through the holidays?” The question is “when will we act?”

Human Rights

Justin Costa | Program Coordinator, The Center for Self-Reliance Food Pantries
Community Action Pioneer Valley

Seventy years ago, on December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United States, under the leadership of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, was one of forty-eight nations voting in support of this historic document.  Its preamble begins with:

“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”

The words in the 30 articles that follow resonate with many of the beliefs that led me to my work today at Community Action Pioneer Valley and my involvement in the Coalition to End Hunger. Article 25 speaks loudest to me:

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Seventy years later, I work true to the conviction that food is not just a human need, it is a human right. I am reminded of — and humbled by — the tremendous efforts being made by thousands of community members throughout western Massachusetts to ensure our neighbors in need have access to food, clothing, housing and medical care. However, despite these efforts (which I applaud), we fall short of living-up to a society where the “right of an adequate standard of living” is attainable. Trying to attain that right for everyone is why I am a member of the Coalition to End Hunger, and what propels me each day.

December 10th, 2018 has another significance. It is the last day for the public to submit comment on The Federal Administrations proposed changes to the “Public Charge” policy.  Changes that would effect as many as 500,000 Massachusetts residents and put many families in a position of having to choose between their future and access to resources for which they legally qualify. In recognition of this 70th anniversary, my immigrant grandparents, and my friends and neighbors, I submitted my comment with pride.

Raising Awareness

Monte Belmonte | Member of Coalition’s Communication & Education Team
Radio Personality, WRSI The River

Since 2010, WRSI – 93.9 The River’s Monte Belmonte (and member of the Coalition to End Hunger) has been leading his annual Monte’s March event through the Pioneer Valley to fight hunger in our region. This year was no exception. On November 19 & 20, Monte pushed a shopping cart 43 miles from Springfield to Greenfield to raise vital funds for The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. While broadcasting live during his march, Monte encouraged his listeners to call with their donations or to donate online. By the time he and his dozens of supporters reached Bank Row in Greenfield, Monte’s March raised more than $271,000, providing the equivalent of 813,000 meals.

In addition to raising more than $1.1 million dollars of the course of its nine year, the annual event also raises something equally as important — awareness.

As he marches those 43 miles, Monte is reminding his audience that currently, at least one in eight residents of western Massachusetts is at risk of hunger on any given day, week or month of the year. They are forced to make the difficult choice between paying for food and other vital resources, such as medicine, heat, rent or transportation. He shares stories of community members’ struggles with hunger, social service providers’ perspective of the underlying causes, and elected officials’ efforts to change the political landscape.

It is his hope, as well as the hope of the Coalition to End Hunger, that beginning an open dialogue about food insecurity in our community is the first step in raising public awareness about its damaging effects, and reversing the stigma associated with seeking food assistance.

In his own words, Monte is humbled by the generosity shown to him by supporters, and credits them for the continued success of this amazing event:

In 2010, when I set off on my first quixotic fool’s errand of pushing an empty shopping cart through The Valley, I didn’t even know if I would physically be able to walk 26 miles in one day. I just hoped we could use the radio, and this ridiculous publicity stunt, to shine a light on hunger in Western Mass and maybe raise a few thousand dollars to help fight food insecurity here. If you had told me then that The March would eventually extend to 43 miles in 3 counties over 2 days, and would include 3 U.S. Congresspeople, dozens of listeners, school groups, marching bands, children’s book authors and knights in shining armor, I would CERTAINLY think the mission had become quixotic. But over these last nine Marches, we have done more than tilt at windmills. This year, The March crossed the $1 million dollar mark for The Food Bank of Western Mass. That means together we have raised enough money for THREE MILLION MEALS for the 1 in 8 people in need in our four counties. We could not have done this without you. Whether your donation was large or small, from a place of abundance or from knowing what it’s like to not know when your next meal is coming, each contribution mattered. This March, and even this Food Bank, has not yet found a solution to ending hunger in our area, but, thanks to you, maybe we put a dent in its armor. I am so thankful to you for supporting this madness of a March. But as Don Quixote said, it’s “maddest of all to see life as it is, and not as it should be.” No one should be hungry. And thanks to you, through this March, tomorrow someone will not be hungry.

With thanks and love,

Monte

 

Forty Dollars

Alan Dallmann | Coordinator of the Coalition to End Hunger
Hunger Solutions Innovator at The Food Bank of Western

The Coalition to End Hunger is made up of many voices, including service providers, health care professionals, business leaders, government agencies, religious associations and educational institutions. But probably the most important voice of all is the voice of those we serve — the clients’. As the coordinator of this coalition, I recently had the opportunity to speak with a western Massachusetts resident who brought-to-light two important insights about the need for emergency food and its benefits:

  1. You might not have control over your income
    “I was married to a guy who was… very controlling and abusive…We had 3 kids together, and also then he had two older kids. So when we moved here from Florida, I was working, but by the time I had my youngest it was impossible to actually have a job and afford the daycare for three very young children, and then the two school age kids. So he was technically supposed to be the breadwinner, but he was really unstable, and he would… he’d go get a job, and he’d work for a while, and then he’d quit. And… it was a cycle.This went on for a really long time. I had applied to UMASS and gotten in there, and I had grants and scholarships so that was covered. (Those funds) would go in my bank account, and he’d take that out and go to spend it on whatever…., yeah sometimes we’d have a little bit of money for food… but we got five kids and two adults, and, you know, sometimes it was like, “Here’s 40 dollars”  and you’d  go to the grocery store and that was it for the week.  We’d end up running up my credit cards so it was really stressful.”
  2. Which can lead to not qualifying for benefits:
    “But like I said it’s like I need to feed my kids and that was the most important thing so, I mean, I had gone at some point to try to apply for benefits, and that was not a good experience. My husband at this time, he was actually earning a paycheck so.. even trying to explain the circumstances, they didn’t (get that) he’s keeping the money or he’s just using it on something else. So yeah, (it) was pretty harsh.

Not qualifying for benefits in this case certainly did not mean assistance wasn’t needed.  This story reminds me that not every situation can be addressed through traditional needs-based calculations and it makes me appreciate those organizations that provide food with no (or minimal) requirements.

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