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State Sen. Benjamin Downing was one of the participants in the brainstorming session on Saturday.

Western Mass Food Bank Sets Eyes On Root Causes of Hunger

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Those in attendance formed small working groups to discuss the most important causes to tackle, and then strategies to do just that.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Western Massachusetts Food Bank wants to do more than just provide emergency meals for those in need.

They want to dig deeper.

The group's task force to end hunger has the goal of doing exactly what's its title suggests: to end hunger in the region.
 
On Saturday, the task force was in Pittsfield meeting with various service groups to identify which root causes together the agencies can start tackling, and how to do it.
 
"We are feeding people day in and day out because it is necessary," said Andrew Morehouse, executive director.
 
Every month the group is sending tons of food to food banks throughout the region. Morehouse estimates some 200,000 people are fed through its programs.
 
By January, the Western Massachusetts Food Bank hopes to have a preliminary action plan with three to five causes of hunger to address. After another six months, that plan will be further refined and the groups hope to start making some inroads into the problem.
 
"We know this is going to be a long-term project," Morehouse said.
 
At a two-hour workshop Saturday, the group asked the volunteers, and organizational representation, and others who attended to discuss those causes. The groups suggested socioeconomics as one of the top issues to tackle. With transportation, food waste, mental health, and access to education and nutrition-related programs also identified.
 
"Breaking the cycle of poverty seems to be a large issue," said Nancy Robinson, when speaking of what her small group had identified as leading causes.
 
The working session hopes to narrow the focus of the organization, which crafted a large graphic outlining some 50 different causes of food insecurity.
 
"We've got to find all of these pressure points that will change and break these patterns," said state Sen. Benjamin Downing.
 
Downing said the state spends some $17.5 million of its $40 billion budget on food programs. But to make real impacts, Downing said it will come down the numerous service agencies working together to make every dollar count even more when tackling the issue.
 
"While we are in the most remote and rural region of the state, one of the great things that comes out of that is you can get everyone in the room in the Berkshires," Downing said. 
 
"We know we have these big things we have to work on ... No matter how big and daunting this problem may be, I hope none of you say it is too big."
 
The session was held at Berkshire Community College, where President Ellen Kennedy said even higher educational institutions are struggling with the issues. BCC opened a food pantry that served some 150 students last year.
 
"Now we think about it every single day. We deal with this," Kennedy said, after saying when she first got into the higher education field she didn't expect hunger to be a large issue.
 
The lead was taken by Bunker Hill Community College, which opened a pantry after discovering students were going without meals. Now it has grown to be a national issue on college campuses.

Executive Director Andrew Morehouse hopes to have an action plan crafted in January.

"This has become an issue of national import, especially at community colleges," Kennedy said.

"We may not solve the issue today but we will move one step forward in our path."

Gwendolyn Hampton-VanSant, of Multicultural Bridge, an organization that has joined the task force, said her group is seeing food insecurity issues in the younger grades as well. 
 
"You can't learn if you are hungry," she said. "We can't function if we have people hungry and starving in Berkshire County."
 
Multicultural Bridge has a role in working on cultural competency and has used its skills in working on how to advocate for funding for hunger-related issues on the state and federal level. The group partners with a number of programs and wants to continue to help in this effort to take a stronger approach to the issue.
 
"It is one bold goal, how are we going to end hunger in Western Massachusetts?" VanSant said.

Tags: food bank,   food pantry,   higher education,   hunger,   task force,   

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Environment Secretary Visits Pittsfield


Kathleen Theoharides, secretary of energy and environmental affairs, visits the site of culvert project in Pittsfield being funded through the state's climate readiness program.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides was in Pittsfield on Friday to review a state-funded culvert site and meet with local officials to discuss the state's climate readiness program. 
 
She joined Mayor Linda Tyer at the Churchill Street culvert, a site which recently received grant funding through the state's Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Program. The city was awarded an $814,524 state grant in June for the Churchill Brook and West Street Culvert Replacement Project.
 
Through the MVP program, which begun in 2017, municipalities identify key climate-related hazards, vulnerabilities and strengths, develop adaptation actions, and prioritize next steps. The initiative which initially started as a $500,000 capital grant program has now increased to $12 million. Pittsfield is among the 71 percent of communities across the commonwealth now enrolled in the MVP program.
 
"The governor and the lieutenant governor have made resilient infrastructure a priority all across the state and I think it's really important to know that we have a really vested interest in Western Massachusetts communities as well as all across the state, not forgetting the Berkshires or Pioneer Valley," said Theoharides in a statement. "Our MVP program is really focused on these types of partnership investments and looking to design infrastructure for the challenges we're seeing today and moving forward as climate change increases."
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