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Food Bank Of Western Massachusetts Expects Rise In Hunger As COVID-19 Surges

Food Bank van and AMR ambulance
Paul Tuthill

Food insecurity in western Massachusetts is climbing along with the surge in coronavirus cases.

One in six people, and one in four children, in western Massachusetts are expected to struggle to obtain food by the end of this year, according to Feeding America, the national network of food banks. This will put more pressure on the network of about 50 local food pantries and meal sites serviced by The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

" I thought I had seen the worse during the Great Recession, but what we have experienced since March due to COVID-19 has really overwhelmed us," said Andrew Morehouse, the Food Bank's Executive Director.

He said the data coming from the sites that are part of the emergency food network confirm a steady rise in demand after an initial spike last spring that subsided during the summer.

"Clearly there is a connection between public health, COVID-19, food insecurity, employment, unemployment -- they are all connected," said Morehouse.

In September, the most recent month with complete data, almost 114,000 people sought food assistance in western Massachusetts, with 18 percent reporting it was the first time going to a food site for help, according to the Food Bank.

So far, the Food Bank has managed to meet demand, but Morehouse said there is concern about the winter months ahead.   He said the Food Bank gets half its inventory from public sources.  Massachusetts has yet to pass a budget for the current fiscal year, and additional federal help seems unlikely before the presidential inauguration in January.

"On the federal side we are very concerned," said Morehouse. "What we need is another economic stimulus bill."

            Underscoring the need for private sector help, the Food Bank received a $5,000 donation Wednesday in Springfield from American Medical Response (AMR).  Patrick Pickering, the company’s Northeast Regional Director announced the donation, which the Food Bank said will buy 20,000 meals.

"As a member of the community here in the city of Springfield, we heard the call and felt the need to responde," said Pickering.

            At the announcement in front of Springfield City Hall, Mayor Domenic Sarno praised AMR as a good corporate citizen.

"We have a very philanthropic community and we look forward to making some more announcements about donations," said Sarno.

             In Springfield, where 80 percent of the public school students come from families with incomes below the federal poverty line, more than 4.2 million meals have been distributed at feeding sites since the schools closed last March.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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