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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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