We stand up for a Massachusetts where everyone gets a fair shot, does and pays their fair share, and plays by the same rules.
By Alice Visocchi
Over the last 4 months, as an intern with Fair Share Education Fund, I have given my summer to raising awareness about the issue of hunger. I was shocked to discover how pervasive hunger is here in America. In Massachusetts, there are 232,270 children who live in food-insecure houses, about 1 in 6 children. That’s unacceptable – we can certainly do better.
As part of my internship, I had the opportunity to visit and volunteer at local food banks. Food banks and food pantries perform incredibly important work, and are crucial to filling some of the gaps in food security.
I volunteered at two different Boston food banks and soup kitchens, the Greater Boston Food Bank, and Haley’s House Soup Kitchen.
I was extremely impressed with everyone I met at the Food Bank and the Haley’s House – their dedication and hospitality was inspiring. Both supervisors I talked to after volunteering graciously sat down with me and a cup of coffee, and explained how their programs work, and why they are designed that way.
The Greater Boston Food Bank
The Food Bank does not serve food directly; rather, they store, gather, package, and distribute various foods to various locations throughout Massachusetts. They work with 550 different agencies (soup kitchens and pantries, as well as and 10 different elementary schools), all located in the eastern third of the state.
These agencies can shop online, on the Food Bank’s online marketplace, in order to select the foods that are needed, and Food Bank staff then delivers boxes directly to the agency. This eliminates waste, and helps tailor supplies to the demand in the various areas. It is also important to note that while the name might say “food,” the Food Bank actually has many different sorts of products; anything that can be found in a supermarket, essentially, can be found in the warehouse. This includes diapers, feminine hygiene supplies, hair dye and shaving cream.
The Food Bank was started in 1981, by Kip Tiernan. Tiernan is also the founder of , a shelter for women. Tiernan, who born in 1926, and was raised by her grandmother in Connecticut, moving to Boston in her early 20’s. Tiernan’s grandmother ran a soup kitchen in her kitchen during the Great Depression, which inspired her to start the Food Bank in Boston.
After talking to one of the staff members, I learned a little bit more about the day-to-day organization and work that the Food Bank does. The Food Bank gets about 20,000 volunteers per year, which saves them about $1 million dollars in operating costs annually. During each of my visits, there was at least one school group volunteering; including a college preparatory school and a school for students with special needs. The Food Bank has a range of tasks that volunteers are needed for, from unpacking boxes of crackers to making crates of asked-for supplies.
The same staffer, when she sat down with me, told me they’d seen a 23% increase in demand for food across the board since the Great Recession. Additionally, many of those in need of extra food assistance have at least one adult in the household working, and many of those families are already on SNAP and/or WIC benefits. It is important to remember that these food banks provide extra food assistance to working families. Despite their income and government assistance, and yet are still struggling.
Haley House Soup Kitchen
The Haley House Soup Kitchen, on the other hand, does serve meals directly.
They serve food to men every day. Breakfast is served early in the morning, starting at 5 a.m., and provided by an all-volunteer staff. Many of the men that eat at the Haley House also have jobs, but cannot afford enough food to get by. There is also a live-in community in the Haley House, who also volunteer at the soup kitchen.
Once again, staff have noted an increase in demand since 2008, and it seems to have been very slow to improve. Again, the people coming for breakfast and lunch at Haley’s House are mainly employed, and many of those are also on SNAP benefits — and yet they still go hungry.
What I learned from these experiences is that while we do have many programs out there to benefit those that need help, we also have a much higher demand for food than we can provide for. SNAP and WIC are wonderful programs, and they definitely help, but they do not solve every problem — after all, a typical SNAP recipient will receive $4.71 of aid per day — which is enough for a coffee and a muffin, but not much else.
We do have tools available to help struggling families. We have wonderful programs, and fantastic volunteers, and great people that make these organizations go round. But, we need to increase awareness of the problem and shine a spotlight on hunger and do more for those who need our help. I remain confident that we can and we will end hunger in America.