As unemployment numbers have surged over the past few weeks, so has demand for social services including emergency food assistance.
A food distribution held every other Wednesday at the Trinity United Methodist church in Springfield’s Forest Park neighborhood has been seeing high demand for some time, according to volunteer Jo Ann Evans.
"We start at 1:30 and we have families that show up here at 11 o'clock in the morning and line up," said Evans.
It’s the same story at the Open Pantry, which has been a source of food for people in need in the city’s North End for decades and at a food distribution that’s been taking place every Friday for the last couple of weeks in the parking lot of Central High School: More and more people from all walks of life struggling with what is known as “food insecurity”—an uncertainty about where the next meal will come from.
"I've been with the Food Bank for 15 years and we experienced something like this during the Great Recession, but this is very different in that it came out of nowhere and is likely to persist," said Andrew Morehouse, executive director of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.
He estimated demand is up by 35 percent.
The Food Bank, which has a warehouse in Hadley, acts as a sort of wholesaler to a network of independently-run pantries and meal sites throughout the four western counties and also does some direct distributions to people at more than 2 dozen locations.
"We try to feed kids and elders with a lot of healthy food including produce, dairy, frozen meats and shelf-stable food," explained Morehouse.
The on-and-off shortages shoppers have seen at grocery stores have also impacted the Food Bank, according to Morehouse.
"We are beginning to experience delays," said Morehouse. "The next couple months are really critical before we get help from the federal government at the end of June and July."
This week, the Food Bank received a $125,000 donation from the Antonacci Family Foundation that Morehouse said will buy the equivalent of 500,000 meals.
The donation kicked off a campaign to highlight food insecurity and to encourage others to make contributions to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, according to Frank Antonacci, the spokesman for the family foundation.
"Now is the time," said Antonacci. "If you have a a charitable foundation or family foundation that has some funds available, now is the time to drain them and give back to the community."
Since schools closed in mid-March, the Springfield Public Schools have distributed more than 500,000 free grab-and-go meals.
Under the federal CARES Act, almost $4 million is earmarked to assist emergency food and shelter programs in Massachusetts.