The numbers are hard to grasp: In Massachusetts, 38 percent of our neighbors are hungry. Across the Commonwealth, that means 2.6 million people don’t know where their next meal will come from. Since March, record job losses and school closures have combined to create a perfect storm of exacerbated need for the state’s most vulnerable families.
“In Eastern Massachusetts, pre-COVID, 1 in 13 residents and 1 in 11 children didn’t have enough to eat,” says Sasha Purpura, head of the Cambridge-based nonprofit Food For Free, which rescues and distributes food that would otherwise go to waste. “Now, it’s 1 in 8 adults and 1 in 6 children. The emergency food system prior to COVID was strained. It has only gotten worse.”
Since March 17, the City of Boston, in partnership with Boston Public Schools, the YMCA of Greater Boston, the Boston Centers for Youth and Families, and the Boston Housing Authority, has distributed more than a million free breakfast and lunch meals to Boston children across 68 sites city-wide. The city seeks still more distribution sites so that any child 18 years and younger can receive nutrition and be connected with services this summer.
James Morton, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Boston, says that summer has long presented an especially daunting challenge for families struggling with food insecurity. “When school closes, low-income children lose two meals a day, breakfast and lunch,” he says.
“That is more than half their daily calories,” says Erin McAleer, president of Project Bread. “So it is a huge, huge gap that is being made up right now.”
The need, says McAleer, will be especially acute if the US Department of Agriculture does not approve the state’s request to continue operating hundreds of meal sites through Aug. 31, past their June 30 closure date.
“Federal nutrition programs are our greatest asset for efficiently addressing the scale of need across our state,” says McAleer. “Without the waiver guaranteeing these sites federal reimbursement for the meals they are providing, they won’t be funded through summer.”
When schools closed in March, Project Bread, together with Massachusetts Department of Education and partner organizations, established 1,600 meal sites in 261 communities across the state. Collectively, the sites serve an estimated 124,000 children daily.
And as food pantries have struggled to meet a surge in demand, McAleer says, “We are trying to get people out of their lines and onto the programs available to them.”
Project Bread offers application assistance for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which gives families EBT cards to purchase food, up to $646 per month for a family of four. In addition, half a million Massachusetts children who qualify for free or reduced price school meals under the National School Lunch Program have received or will receive a supplementary Pandemic-EBT benefit of $5.70 per day, for a total of $28.50 a week. SNAP recipients can double their dollars on fresh produce at farmers markets around the city and, thanks to a Michigan-based Fair Food Network pilot program, at the Daily Table grocery stores in Roxbury and Dorchester.
“Double Up Food Bucks means SNAP recipients will find prices at Daily Table you haven’t seen since 1975,” says Daily Table founder and president Doug Rauch. The nonprofit grocery stores are open to everyone and sell steeply discounted fresh produce and healthy prepared meals priced to rival the cheapest fast food.
“I would say that under the best of times, we have struggled to have everyone have access to the foods they should be eating,” Rauch says. “And now, we are not in the best of times.”
Daily Table has expanded its mission during the COVID-19 crisis. “We are working with the Mayor’s Office of Food Access to deliver meals every day to needy individuals for free,” Rauch says. With support from the Lewis Family Foundation and the Shah Family Foundation, Daily Table, Rauch says, has distributed 50,000 meals’ worth of food in the form of 30-pound boxes. “These are all valuable efforts,” he says, “and they are drops in the bucket. That is what breaks your heart. So much more needs to be done.”
To get help:
- To access SNAP, P-EBT, and WIC benefits, call Project Bread’s FoodSource Hotline at 800-645-8333 (TTY 800-377-1292). The hotline is confidential and in 160 languages.
- To find a meal site near you, visit Project Bread’s www.meals4kids.org/summer or text FOOD or COMIDA to 877-77, or download the Summer Eats App for iPhone and Android.
- Boston residents can visit boston.gov/covid19foodmap to find food resources, including youth meal sites, food pantries, and more.
- City residents who cannot access food due to mobility, illness, or quarantine can connect with the Mayor’s Office of Food Access by calling 311, or 617-635-3717 or by e-mailing email@example.com.
- Families with special education students who receive door-to-door transportation can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to request to have their meals delivered.
To give help:
- Donate to the Boston Resiliency Fund (BRF), which to date has granted more than $9 million to anti-hunger organizations.
- Donate to other organizations that are actively engaged in alleviating food insecurity, and consider asking your employer to match your gift. In addition to your local food pantry, here’s a short list of anti-hunger organizations you might consider:
- Volunteer: While observing pandemic precautions such as wearing a mask and gloves, you can prepare and pack food boxes or deliver meals in your car. Contact organizations directly to inquire, or connect with volunteer opportunities through Boston Cares, www.bostoncares.org, email@example.com.
- Mobilize and advocate for greater food access for all. Call or write to your elected officials.
- The City of Boston seeks additional meal distribution sites. If your organization has space available, please contact the Mayor’s Office of Food Access.