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Springfield forms Food Policy Council to combat hunger

Date: 9/29/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- Mayor Domenic Sano announced at the 2009 Hunger Summit conducted Thursday at the MassMutual Center the formation of the Springfield Food Policy Council.

Springfield will be one of more than 60 cities nationwide with such a council.

Over 100 people from throughout Western Massachusetts who work on food security and hunger issues attended the summit.

According to statistics released by the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts nine percent of the households in the Mason Square area of the city experience moderate to severe hunger and 19 percent are food insecure. Poor food choices have contributed to close to 60 percent of the city's kindergarten through 12th grade population being overweight. The diabetes mortality rate in the city is higher than the state average.

Sarno told the group that he has been inconvenience stores in the morning and witnessed parents allowing their children to eat potato chips and cupcakes.

The mayor said there are also concerns in the city the elderly population are also not eating what they should and that some traditional foods among the city's diverse cultural groups should be consumed in moderation.

He noted the city's initial efforts to maker changes have included encouraging neighborhood gardens and farmers markets.

The Springfield Food Policy Council has been two years in the planning and is the result of city officials working with the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, Springfield Partners for Community Action and the New North Citizens Council. The council will governed by a steering committee that will included representatives from non-profit groups, faith-based organizations, neighborhood councils, area farmers, grocers and youth organizations. Sarno will appoint some of the members of the steering committee, while others will be elected.

He said that he would be making these appointments in the "near very near future in consultation with [Director of health and Human Services] Helen Caulton Harris."

The goals of the council include:

• strengthen community and regional food systems by linking production, process, distribution, consumption and waste management;

• support activities that encourage local renewable energy sources;

• stimulate a demand for healthy foods;

• increase access for all of the city's residents to healthy and local foods;

• and support a "buy local, buy regional food " procurement policy.

Andrew Morehouse, the executive director of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, told the audience there are long-term solutions for hunger, but "we have to have the building blocks for such a system."

Joel Berg, the keynote speaker for the summit, also spoke of the need to set up programs that seek solutions to the root problems that cause hunger and poverty. Berg is the executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger and the author of the new book, "All You Can Eat: How Hungry is America?"

Berg said that that among demographic groups in Canada that are as poor as similar groups in this country hunger rates are half those in the United States. He attributed the lower rate to the universal health care in Canada. He explained that people can't move out of poverty if they are sick and don't have health insurance.

He charged the current belief that government can't fix problems isn't true.

"We've been conned into believing we can't solve problems anymore," he said.

He noted that while some conservative pundits charge the social programs of president Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" campaign were a failure because they didn't eradicate poverty, Berg noted that from 1960 through 1973 the poverty rate was cut in half in this nation. Some of that improvement berg said could also be attributed to the economic growth in the country at that time, as well, he added.

Sixteen million people entered the middle class during that period, he said.

Berg challenged the representatives of non-profit groups in the audience to advocate for the kind of social programs that can provide long-term solutions.

"It's your job to make it work better, he said.