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OPINION

A vital need in the coronavirus pandemic: food

Families with limited resources cannot afford food today, let alone stockpile two weeks’ or more worth of food in anticipation of a quarantine.

Lesley Becker/Tatiana Atamaniuk - stock.adobe.

Every day 1 in 11 people in Massachusetts struggles with food insecurity, and that number will surely increase during the coronavirus crisis.

Families with limited resources cannot afford food today, let alone stockpile two weeks’ or more worth of food in anticipation of a quarantine. For hourly workers, those in the “gig economy” or service industry, a paycheck may soon not be a reality.

Students of all ages will be impacted, since 80 percent of Boston Public School students rely on free and reduced-price school meals and 55,000 college students rely on the Massgrant financial aid across the state. For these children and young adults, school, and the care that comes with it, will no longer be an option for an unknown period of time.

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So how do we feed these individuals and families? Our response is that there is a strong food network in place to help feed our kids, families, and elders. With a disaster of this magnitude, the emergency food system is here to work together to feed those in need.

A partial list of agencies in need of donations

Massachusetts is home to many world-class institutions that are well known and highly regarded as experts in the fields of medicine, biotechnology, education, and research. What may be less well known is that the Commonwealth has a highly effective and robust emergency feeding network.

This vital network of over 1,000 nonprofit organizations works regularly with government, health care, education, retail, and other industries. In this time of crisis and uncertainty, this network of partners is stepping up to help meet the evolving food needs during the Covid-19 outbreak.

All families seeking food assistance are welcome to visit The Greater Boston Food Bank’s 500 feeding partners across Eastern Massachusetts, as our priority continues to be keeping doors open and healthy food available. Our programs have received guidance on social distancing as well as sanitary recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and have been instructed to give out as much food as possible. Many of these programs have altered their delivery methods — moving meal programs to grab-and-go, as Women’s Lunch Place has done. Some pantries are moving to pre-bagging groceries and considering drive-up possibilities to minimize the interaction between guests and volunteers.

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For seniors, we are working with our two focused programs, Brown Bag and the federal Commodity Supplemental Food Program, to ensure full operation and extreme precautions among these vulnerable populations.

Project Bread’s Child Nutrition Outreach Program is working closely with the Department of Education to coordinate feeding sites across the state. Schools and other authorized sites, including some of our network partners, are stepping up to manage these logistics with their municipalities. For example, The Open Door is working with the Gloucester Public Schools. In the city of Boston, YMCA sites are becoming locations for school meals, public facilities like firehouses across the city are being considered as alternate food distribution options, and GBFB will be storing food for Boston Public Schools. These are but a few examples of what is happening, and new innovations are in place every day.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is the best tool we have to address food insecurity and boost the economy, and for most, may be the most feasible food access option with the proper precautions. We are hopeful that these benefits will be increased by Congress and flexible solutions at the state level will be offered during these times of uncertainty.

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GBFB has been on the front lines as a critical first responder for nearly 40 years. We’re working to ensure uninterrupted service to feed the 140,000 people we serve each week. These numbers will only grow, but there’s plenty of food right now. It’s about how we get the food in the system to the people who need it throughout our whole state.

If you need food, there are resources to help you. If you are looking for a way to help us secure more food for our neighbors in need, please consider a donation. Your financial donations will be put to use immediately. If there is one thing you can do today, it is to donate money.

We’re in this fight together. Our collective health and well-being demand our collective action.

Catherine D’Amato is president and CEO of The Greater Boston Food Bank.

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