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Food programs see great need

Date: 11/28/2011

Nov. 28, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

and Chris Maza

Reminder Newsroom

GREATER SPRINGFIELD — Around the holiday season, people think of food and the directors of area food pantries are hoping residents will be able to buy an extra item to donate to meet a growing need of hunger and food insecurity.

Speak to the directors of emergency food services and most of them will tell you that demand is up and donations are down.

Holly Farrar, executive director of the Community Survival Center, which services Indian Orchard, Ludlow, Wilbraham and Hampden, told Reminder Publications, “More is going out and we haven’t had a corresponding increase in donations.”

Farrar said her monthly averages of the number of client families served tell the story. The average from the period of July 2010 to June 2011 was about 325. From July to October of this year, though, that number has increased to 397.

Allison Maynard, executive director of the Open Pantry, which provides emergency foods for people in Springfield, was thankful for the efforts of Rock 102’s Bax and O’Brien’s annual Mayflower Marathon conducted last week. The total amount in food and cash donations was more than $77,000, but Maynard noted this amount was less than last year’s.

“The first day was slow,” she said during the last 90 minutes of the marathon. Watching a growing line of people with bags of food, she added, “But the community pulled through.”

Despite the decrease in donation, Maynard said she was “thrilled.” The food and cash donations will help sustain the Open Pantry until March, she said.

Both Maynard and Farrar said one factor that has hurt donations to emergency food programs was the snowstorm on Oct. 29 and the widespread resultant power outage. Both women said people had to replace hundreds of dollars in food that was stored in freezers and lost.

Maynard said that demand for food services at the Open Pantry has risen 17 percent and the shelves were fairly bare before the marathon.

Farrar said, “We can’t keep enough food on the shelves.” She added, “It’s difficult to plan because we don’t know what’s coming through the door.”

The people who are new to both services are people who have run out of unemployment benefits or may be working just enough not to be eligible for food stamps, Maynard said.

Farrar noted that many people who once donated are now seeking services.

Congressman Richard Neal donated $500 from his campaign fund last week to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts at that organization’s “Brown Bag” program at a senior center in the North End.

Neal said, “In a nation blessed with so much, there are plenty of good arguments, but one issue we can agree upon is there should be enough to eat for the American family.”

Andrew Morehouse, executive director of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, said there has been a food insecurity crisis for a long time, “but since 2008 it has been bleeding into the general public.”

Morehouse said the escalating cost of living with high levels of unemployment have made the hunger situation worse. He added that people need to get back to work for the situation is be relieved.

Part of the funding for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts comes from federal sources and Morehouse expressed concerns about the up-coming budget cuts to be discussed in Congress after the failure of the “Super Committee” to come up with a plan to lower the federal deficit.

East Longmeadow Council on Aging Community Services Coordinator Janice Michaelis said, “We have definitely seen an increase in need this year.”

“We’ve done pretty well,” she continued, “but we haven’t had all that we’ve liked. We’ve been pretty lucky to keep it as well stocked as we have. We have had a lot of support from civic associations, the schools and other organizations.”

Michaelis added, “I think there always needs to be more awareness. There is a misconception that people in East Longmeadow don’t have need and that people here haven’t fallen on hard times. Some think that just because a person has a car, they aren’t in need. Many people have cars and work, but their jobs just don’t bring in enough. Our pantry is not just for seniors. The only eligibility requirement is they have to prove they are a resident of the town.”

St. Paul Lutheran Church in East Longmeadow also has a food bank. All food is distributed based on need. In order to use the pantry, interested parties must fill out a 1040 federal income tax form. Those with SSI, SSDI or Social Security must provide official notification. Those who receive food stamps must also provide official documentation. For more information, contact the church office at 525-6084.

Karen Neiman Michelman, executive director of the Longmeadow Adult Center, said there is a demand for emergency food services in that community as well.

“We here at the Adult Center are here to help the community, so a food pantry here was a natural fit. We have been in demand since the day we started this. There has been a steady flow ever since. We generally get increased donations this time of year and we also use the food bank in Hatfield. We have lots of sources and we need them all,” Michelman said.

“We see a wide age range [of people],” she added. “We see people who are unemployed, people who are aging and families who are simply struggling. We are here to help and we realize that people are going through difficult times. Just because you live in a nice town doesn’t mean you can’t lose your job.”

Farrar said that people who donated food once brought in bags of items at a time. She believes that some people who can no longer afford to do so feel embarrassed about giving a lesser amount.

“One can of food or a $1 bill really can make a difference,” she said, adding that people need to re-think charitable giving.

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