By John Lynds
East Boston based Project Bread, the state’s leading antihunger organization, released numbers from its upcoming annual Status Report on Hunger in Massachusetts 2010. Project Bread reports that in the latest numbers nearly 660,000 people in the state are struggling to put food on the table – a nearly 20 percent increase over the past year.
Food insecurity has found its way into middle class suburbs and has driven low-income people further into crisis.
The report blames unemployment, lost savings, and foreclosures that are becoming all too familiar to families who once felt securely middle class and now are facing hunger for the first time in their lives.
These families are not only stretching their food dollars to make sure everyone eats, but also compromising their health. Ten percent of households (253,600) 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. Poverty directly correlates with hunger. In low-income communities poverty has grown to over 20 percent in five years.
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 state.
“The current economic problems are driving a crisis in food insecurity that is broader and deeper than we’ve seen before in this state,” said 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:
• Nearly 660,000 people in Massachusetts are struggling to put food on the table. This is nearly a 20 percent increase over the past year.
• The most recent measurement reveals that 253,600 or 10 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.
• Poverty directly correlates with hunger. In low-income communities, including Lawrence, New Bedford, Fall River, and Springfield, poverty has grown to over 20 percent in five years.
• Children face the brunt of the recession. Although the statewide poverty rate has remained constant, the poverty rate for children has increased from 10 percent in 2007 to 13 percent in 2009.
• Unemployment continues to hover at nine percent and over 37,000 families faced foreclosure in 2010.
• Survey research of 11,000 low-income families in health centers, conducted by Partners HealthCare and sponsored by Project Bread, revealed an astounding 11 percent screened positive for food insecurity with hunger – nearly three times the statewide average.
• When seniors are hungry, they are more likely to be hospitalized and to have chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. Over 25 percent of callers to Project Bread’s FoodSource Hotline have at least one senior living in their household.
• 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 over 50 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 nutrition standards for school breakfast, school lunch, and summer meals programs that go beyond federal requirements were established.
• 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.
• Project Bread enlists partner organizations and health care providers to connect vulnerable families and seniors with healthy, nourishing food.
Project Bread produced “Hunger in the Community: Ways Hospitals Can Help” with UMass Memorial Health Care and the Office of Congressman James McGovern to highlight actions hospitals can take to enroll seniors and families in SNAP/food stamps and other nutrition programs.