Bay State advocates fight food insecurity
By Marie Szaniszlo
August 25, 2014
Advocates for the hungry are hoping a new law, requiring any Massachusetts business disposing of one ton or more of food per week to divert it from landfills as of Oct. 1, will mean more food for people who need it.
“Our goal is to serve all of Massachusetts,” said Lauren Palumbo, chief operating officer of Lovin’ Spoonfuls, which hopes to take advantage of the law. Since it started in 2010, Lovin’ Spoonfuls, a Boston-based nonprofit, has picked up 1.75 million pounds of excess food from more than 50 farms and supermarkets and distributed it to more than 40 food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and other area nonprofits.
“There are 49 million people who are food insecure in this country,” Palumbo said. “The conversation always used to be that there wasn’t enough food for everyone. But we’re wasting 40 percent of our food. Taking and tossing it doesn’t have to be the answer. Food rescue is the very logical, simple solution.”
Statewide, more than 700,000 Massachusetts residents are hungry or at risk of hunger, according to Project Bread. And as many as 420,000 of them sought help from the Greater Boston Food Bank from 2012 to 2013.
“The problem is not that we don’t have enough food; what we have is a distribution problem,” said City Councilor Matt O’Malley, who has called for a hearing on hunger. “We need to examine the extent of the problem in our city and discuss the city’s role in addressing it. We also need to better utilize the role of these nonprofits, and perhaps better facilitate how these programs can have a larger reach.”
“Boston can be a leader in this,” O’Malley said. “We have the institutional support. We have incredible nonprofits. We have the will. Let’s find a way.”
The food pantries’ clients include the working poor like Shirley Green, 50, of Hyde Park, who told the Herald she went to bed hungry because, as a part-time home health aide, she earned just enough to make her ineligible for food stamps.
“I would pay only part of my utilities so that I could eat,” she said.
This spring, Green qualified for $155 a month in food stamps because she had fewer clients. But because she earns only $520 a month, she relies on her church’s food pantry to supplement her food stamps.
She is one of a growing number of Massachusetts residents who lack consistent access to food.
From 2002 to 2012, the percentage of “food insecure” people in the state nearly doubled, from 6.4 percent to 11.4 percent, according to Project Bread.
“The big upswing is very much related to an increase in the number of people who don’t have well-paying, reliable jobs,” said Ellen Parker, the nonprofit’s executive director. “Everybody who works ought to be able to feed and shelter themselves and their kids.”