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Food, Lifestyle, News

Hunger Series: Many organizations are here to help

(Spenser R. Hasak)

If you’ve ever taken the T into Boston on a chilly morning on the first Sunday in May, taken your pledge folder to the table on the Boston Common, and then trudged the 20-mile path through Boston, Brookline, Newton, Watertown, Cambridge and then back where you started, you have put your own dent into hunger.

Your participation in the Walk for Hunger has helped fund “Project Bread,” headquartered in East Boston, not only work to eradicate hunger throughout the Boston area, but to provide much-needed resources to other organizations that endeavor to provide relief to beleaguered people who aren’t always sure where their next meals are coming from.

The walk began in 1969 and is the oldest pledge walk in the country. Fifty years ago, 2,000 people took part. Last month, that number was estimated at 10,000.

Each year, money raised from the walk goes into the “Walk Fund.” Project Bread receives applications from groups fighting hunger throughout the state seeking funding for their programs. Money given out corresponds to how much money is raised. Programs funded by money raised by the walk include community meal programs, food pantries, local farms, community gardens, and childhood nutrition initiatives.

Last year’s walk helped fund the East Coast International Church, Lynn Community Health Center, My Brother’s Table and the Food Project in Lynn. In Revere, money went to the First Congregational Church of Revere Food Pantry and the Mass. General Hospital Health Center.

In Lynn, perhaps the most well-known facility for feeding the hungry is My Brother’s Table, on Washington Street, about a block away from the Lynn Police station. In operation since 1982, My Brother’s Table, which does not receive government funding, operates with a $1.2 million budget that includes around $752,000 cash, according to Executive Director Dianne Kuzia Hills. The rest of the budget includes in-kind donations like professional services, Hills said.

My Brother’s Table volunteer and board member Thomas Bravo loads up a van with the last of the bags filled with a weeks worth of food that will be given to people who can’t make it to the soup kitchen due to disabilities. (Spenser R. Hasak)

It is with the help of about 3,000 volunteers that My Brother’s Table can prepare and serve roughly 500 meals a day. Last year, MBT served roughly 180,000 meals.

My Brother’s Table does not take a day off, serving lunch and dinner daily. Though the place is usually busy, things pick up in the summer, which, says Hills, “is the busiest time here.

“It’s a combination of things including weather and longer light hours that make it easier for some guests to get here.”

But another big reason for the influx, she said, is the fact that children who are served by breakfast and lunch programs during the school year become clients in the summertime.

This overlaps with another problem the pantry faces: the dwindling of volunteers come August, when people go on vacation.

Hills sees a large group of people in the city that she feels is difficult to reach.

“People who are caught in the middle,” she says, “are people out of school who aren’t seniors. The cost of living is so expensive, and it’s hard to afford the right type of food. Healthy food tends to be more expensive.”

In Peabody, Citizens Inn merged with Haven from Hunger last July, creating one organization dedicated to helping local families and individuals to battle hunger.

Haven from Hunger currently includes a food pantry and a community meals program at 71 Wallis Street.

The merger allows both organizations to get a better grip on the problem. The Citizens Inn part of the program will continue its homelessness prevention and social services programs while Haven from Hunger continues to offer its food pantry and hunger prevention programs.

Haven from Hunger provides more than 1,800 households in the Salem/Peabody/Lynnfield areas with fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, dairy and canned goods. Last year, the organization distributed food for close to 600,000 meals.

The community meals program offers guests a balanced supper four nights a week, and last year more than 9,000 dinners were served.

As with My Brother’s Table, volunteerism is a lifeblood for Haven from Hunger, and as such, the organization welcomes volunteers of all ages. However, those under 14 must be accompanied by an adult.

Peabody also offers the “Summer Eats” program to help children ages 18 and under in need of a meal. Run by the Peabody Institute Library, the program will be serving lunch through Aug. 30, every Monday through Thursday. The food is supplied by Citizens Inn and Haven from Hunger and will be served picnic-style in the library’s courtyard.

“It’s about feeding kids’ minds and bodies, because you can’t separate the two,” said Melissa Robinson, library director. “It’s become a staple here at the library.”

Robinson said the program came into being because staffers would notice children staying in the library for hours during the summer, bringing no food and leaving without having eaten.

“We are really here to provide activities and the free lunch is an added bonus,” Robinson said. “It’s for everyone.”  

In Saugus, at the United Parish Food Pantry,  about 30 volunteers help organize and distribute bags of food each Friday morning at the Cliftondale Congregational Church and an additional 15 to 20 help when they can.

The pantry is run as a collaborative effort among religious organizations in town.

In May, 166 people in 87 households were served, and the number of households with children was up to 80 from 27 households the month before.

Like My Brother’s Table and the Summer Eats program, the need is greater in the summer, when students are out of school, said pantry director Wendy Reed. On the other hand, winter months are busiest for senior citizens, when those residents on fixed incomes need to choose between paying for heat and paying for food, Reed said.

About 57 percent of the food is gathered by donations, both monetary and actual food, and the remainder is obtained from the Greater Boston Food Bank. The pantry is intended to supplement what clients cannot get using other forms of assistance and their own income. It is not intended to feed families for the entire week, said Reed.

Panera Bread donates leftovers at the end of the day each Thursday for distribution on Friday. They typically contribute several types of pastries, bagels and all different kinds of bread.

“Some weeks we have more than enough for everyone and they just rave about their bagels,” said Reed.

Stop & Shop in Saugus makes a donation every Friday morning, and volunteers who serve as food runners pick it up before the pantry opens. The store typically gives the pantry frozen items, like pizzas, that are not yet out of date.

Rather than having an employee check the date on all of the items, the store uses a turnover method and entire shelves and freezers are cleared to make room for the new items, said Reed.

“That food would otherwise end up in a dumpster,” she said. “When Arthur (Grabowski) comes in with a big grin on his face, I know we have something special, like pies.”

Similarly, Honeybaked Ham Company rotates inventory every six weeks. The Saugus store manager calls Reed to pick up sliced turkey breast and whole hams that are still fresh and far from their expiration date.

Walmart Corp. plays a big role in fighting hunger. According to the chain’s 2017 Global Responsibility Report, The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that more than 42.2 million people face food insecurity, defined as the inability to access food on a regular, predictable basis.  

Walmart, and the Walmart Foundation, has committed to providing 4 million meals over five years. So far, it has provided more than 2.4 billion meals to people in need since 2014.

Walmart is working toward the goal through food donations from Walmart stores, Sam’s Club, and distribution centers, and through grants to charitable organizations focused on hunger relief programs. Since Fiscal Year 2016, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have donated about $100 million to fight hunger, including more than $50 million in Fiscal Year 2017, according to the report.

Walmart works with organizations such as the National Recreation and Parks Association and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America to provide snacks and meals to children after school and during the summer.

A Walmart and Sam’s Club campaign “Fight Hunger. Spark Change” raised more than $17 million to support Feeding America in Fiscal Year 2017. Feeding America is a United States-based nonprofit organization that is a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks that feed more than 46 million people through food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and other community-based agencies

Finally, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program was established to ensure that children continue to receive nutritious meals during summer break. When school is out, the program provides free meals to kids and teens in low-income areas.

State agencies administer the program and communicate with USDA. Sponsors enter into agreements with state agencies to run the program. Schools, local government agencies, camps, faith-based and other non-profit community organizations that have the ability to manage a food service program may become program sponsors. Sponsors are reimbursed by the USDA and may manage multiple sites.

Sites are places in the community where children receive meals in a safe and supervised environment, including schools, parks, community centers, health clinics, hospitals, apartment complexes, churches, and migrant centers. Sites work directly with sponsors.

Sites can be found here – https://www.fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks

The Item’s Daniel Kane and Lindsey Ryan also contributed to this report.

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