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.
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Pittsfield Chooses Tyer And Mazzeo For Mayoral Election
By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Voters casting ballots at Tuesday's preliminary election chose mayoral candidates Linda Tyer and Melissa Mazzeo to face off for the general election in November.
They also thinned out the herd in two ward races to place the names of Jonathan Lothrop and Patrick Kavey on the ballot for Ward 5 and candidates Joseph Nichols and Dina Guiel Lampiasi for Ward 6.
On the mayoral front, Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo received the most votes out of the four candidates on the ballot with an unofficial count of 2,860 votes. Incumbent Mayor Linda Tyer received 2,571 votes.
The two mayor candidates were favorites in the race, and performed well above Rusty Anchor owner Scott Graves and retired Pittsfield Police Officer Karen Kalinowsky. Graves took 343 votes while Kalinowsky took 281 votes.
Parks and Open Spaces Manager James McGrath asked the committee Monday for permission to spend down the balance of the city's Community Preservation Funds to find a new location for the beach.
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While the entire city will be deciding which two of the four candidates for mayor will be moving on to the general election in November, only Wards 5 and 6 will determine the top two candidates vying to representative their precincts. Neither ward has an incumbent running but both have former city... click for more
There are 520 pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students in the district. On the other side of the spectrum, there are 1,632 high school students and 400 career and technical education students.
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Mayor Linda Tyer named Sammons chief last week and he was sworn in to take immediate command of the Fire Department. Tuesday's broadcast event was largely to celebrate his promotion and introduce him to the council and the city.
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