Getting sick isn’t the only hazard of living through a pandemic. As unemployment surges and the economy careens toward recession, putting enough food on the table is a struggle in many households as well.
The growing hunger crisis makes a $3 million round of state grants announced this week especially timely. Divided among more than two-dozen recipients, the money aims to fortify networks of food pantries, local farms, fishermen and school cafeterias, with the aim of ensuring local families get enough to eat.
In our region, the program is giving $90,000 to North of Boston Farm in Boxford to help expand its home delivery services, buy a refrigerated van and fix up a box truck. The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Haverhill gets $9,358 to buy equipment to support its grab-and-go dinners. On the North Shore, the Salem Pantry, which runs mobile fresh food markets and an emergency grocery assistance program, gets $128,000 to build storage and warehouse space.
The $3 million outlay is the first installment in a $36 million Food Security Infrastructure Grant program, the goal of which is to fortify what Gov. Charlie Baker described as the state’s “food supply chain.” In a press release, he cited the “urgent need for food security to support our must vulnerable residents.”
Certainly that includes people who were living on modest means when the pandemic began. But the number of people considered “vulnerable,” because they are without jobs and may be falling behind in their bills, has grown significantly since then.
A report from the Greater Boston Food Bank, issued two months after Baker declared a state of emergency due to the public health crisis of COVID-19, detailed the problem. It said 1 in 8 people in eastern Massachusetts are predicted to be food insecure at some point this year due to the pandemic, meaning their access to food will be disrupted. Among children in the region, 1 in 6 were likely to be hungry.
The report, drawing upon research by the group Feeding America, blamed the pandemic for a 59% increase in the number of food insecure people in this part of the state. One can safely assume the problem has deepened since the report was issued in May.
Building a better food distribution system should give many who are struggling more opportunities to stock their pantries and fill their refrigerators.
But, really, creating better pathways to ensure local food is served to local people, benefitting local businesses, is a worthwhile investment even when we aren’t confronting a recession or pandemic.