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554,000 in Massachusetts Struggle to Put Food on the Table

Project Bread, the state’s leading antihunger organization, released numbers from its upcoming annual status report on hunger in the Commonwealth. The disquieting trends described in this report, caused by high unemployment, point to 554,000 people in the Commonwealth struggling with hunger. Food insecurity has found its way into middle class suburbs and has driven low-income people further into crisis. The report argues for a public health approach and asks that the state continue to bring systemic solutions to scale — especially healthy school and summer food programs for kids. These programs are designed to help entire populations of low-income children while they also bring federal dollars into the Commonwealth.

No one has been left untouched by the economic downturn. Lost jobs. Lost savings. Lost homes. Not surprisingly, over 8.3 percent of households in Massachusetts struggle with “food insecurity,” a measurement that captures the degree to which an individual or family cannot obtain adequate nutritious food for a healthy life. “Food insecurity with hunger,” which is the most serious condition, is primarily found in low-income communities where the percentage is six times higher than the statewide average. Field research conducted by Project Bread indicates that food insecurity numbers to be issued in 2010 will dwarf current data as they capture the full impact of the economic crisis we’re in.

“The current economic problems are driving a crisis in food insecurity that is broader and deeper than we’ve seen before in this state,” says Ellen Parker, the executive director of Project Bread. “There is every indication that hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts citizens will need help to cover the basics — including many who have never needed help before.”

Among Project Bread’s findings:

? 554,000 people in Massachusetts are struggling to put food on the table.

? The most recent measurement reveals that 8.3 percent of all Massachusetts households were food insecure, and nearly half of these households experience the most extreme condition, known as food insecurity with hunger.

? Food insecurity with hunger, the most serious condition, is six times higher in low-income communities, including those in Lawrence, Worcester, New Bedford, Fitchburg, Holyoke, Springfield, among others, than the statewide average.

? Unemployment rates, combined with the down economy, are forcing many to ask for help.

? In 2009, Project Bread’s FoodSource Hotline, which links hungry people with food in their neighborhood, experienced a 31% increase in calls in 2009.

? Project Bread’s Hotline answered 49,000 calls from hungry people in 2009 as compared to slightly more than 37,000 for the same period a year ago.

? Survey research of 11,000 low-income families in health centers, conducted by Partners HealthCare and sponsored by Project Bread, revealed severe consequences to health, growth, and learning.

? Food pantries and soup kitchens funded by Project Bread through The Walk for Hunger served 57.3 million meals last year, an increase of 32 percent from the year before.

? Because the scope of the problem has changed — there is a need for systemic hunger solutions that are bigger, broader, and more effective; that bring federal dollars into Massachusetts; and that serve entire populations of food-insecure people.

? Project Bread recognizes the great strides the Commonwealth has made in maximizing participation in federal nutrition programs including SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), school and summer meals programs, and WIC; however, it calls for bringing participation in these programs to scale so that every eligible person is served.

? Project Bread sees schools as the most significant antihunger program for low-income children because the meals are federally reimbursed and can be made nutritious and nonstigmatizing.

? Low-income children rely on school meals for up to 55 percent of their daily calories, but school lunch and breakfast programs could potentially protect tens of thousands of low-income children from food insecurity and boost students’ health and capacity to learn if they were brought to scale.

? Children who are poorly fed do not learn as well in school and are more prone toward obesity and associated health problems, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

? The report points to the need to provide state-of-the-science nutrition to low-income children by enhancing the quality of school food. The report points to preliminary findings from a study by the Harvard School of Public Health, sponsored by Project Bread, that children will eat healthy food, including whole grains, breads, pastas, fresh fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products, and when this food is offered in an appealing way, participation in the lunch program is 17 percent higher, meaning more students eat a quality lunch that is federally reimbursed.

The complete report, due out at the end of the month, will present the data to support these findings and solutions. Ellen Parker, the executive director of Project Bread, wrote the report. For interviews with Parker, please contact Project Bread.

About Project Bread
As the state’s leading antihunger organization, Project Bread is dedicated to alleviating, preventing, and ultimately ending hunger in Massachusetts. Through The Walk for Hunger, the oldest continual pledge walk in the country, Project Bread provides millions of dollars each year in privately donated funds to over 400 emergency food programs in 128 communities statewide. Project Bread also advocates systemic solutions that prevent hunger in children and that provide food to families in natural, everyday settings. With the support of the Governor and State Legislature, the organization has invested millions in grants to community organizations that feed children where they live, learn, and play. For more information, visit www.projectbread.org.



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