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Our Opinion

Our Opinion: Berkshire food pantries' missions are rapidly expanding. They deserve robust support

Char Parron and Lauren Johnson pack warm breakfasts

Char Parron and Lauren Johnson pack warm breakfasts for guests of the South Congregational Church food pantry. 

Serving 900 incoming families. Delivering 380 more meals. Preparing and distributing thousands of pounds of food. This is a week’s work for just one of Berkshire County’s food pantries.

Like all of the region’s anti-hunger programs, the South Community Food Pantry in Pittsfield continues to see spiking demand. The pantry’s organizers say they’re getting 300 more families per week compared to three months ago. The People’s Pantry in Great Barrington is playing keep-up, too. Its patrons doubled between December 2021 and December 2022.

As the pandemic waned, the side effect of swelling demand on food pantries never abated — and it’s likely to get worse soon for both pantries and their patrons. Additional federal benefits from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (food stamps) will expire in less than a month, so pantries likely will see more folks struggling to make ends meet and deeper need in those they’re already serving. Meanwhile, even as stubborn worldwide inflation has cooled off slightly, it’s still pushing food prices troublingly high for low-income households and the food assistance programs seeking to help them.

Food pantries throughout the Berkshire community are sounding the alarm now, and we join their call for leaders and civilians alike shore up these critical community organizations likely to see demand rise even more in the near future. So many of these programs operate on the thinnest of margins, running on the fumes of sweat and tears from those willing to do the life-giving work of feeding their most vulnerable neighbors.

The South Community Food Pantry in Pittsfield sees 16 to 18 new households per week.

The People’s Pantry, which serves 2,000 people per month in South County, had its busiest single day ever last Wednesday with 132 households, or about 400 people.

The Al Nelson Friendship Center in North Adams distributes about 78 tons of food per year, and increased demand will tug upward on that staggering number.

In addition to these larger regional pantries and the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, civic and faith groups help to fill the gaps with community meals and delivery programs — Berkshire Bounty, Bright Morningstar Kitchen, Berkshire Food Project, the Lee Food Pantry, to name just a few.

These are life-giving enterprises that not only feed the hungry but nourish the entire community’s soul. The sustenance they provide to those in need is both nutritional and social, and for those most in need many of these locations also provide other crucial goods: warm clothing, toiletries and connection to further resources and services. These programs exemplify the awesome power we have to help those in need when we come together. Those who put their shoulder to this taller and taller task deserve better recognition — and some help.

It is obscene that the richest country in human history allows the grip of food insecurity to tighten around so many of its people — particularly children. Of all the things that divide us, hopefully one thing we all could agree on is the need to raise the floor of dignity for the least of these by not just aiding them with basic necessities but helping them to escape the vicious circles of poverty surrounding too many of our fellow Americans. That means pushing back on the cynical urge to punch down on the most vulnerable by cutting federal programs that help them like SNAP. It also means fighting for an economic recovery from COVID that raises all boats instead of leaving countless to drown. And it means addressing the shameful gaps in education, medical care affordability and mental health access that trap so many.

Those are wicked systemic problems, and one could be forgiven for thinking the state of Congress and our national political climate is not exactly poised for big, positive steps. Here’s the step we can take. We know the strength of the generosity at the heart of the Berkshire community. We see it every holiday season and every cultural sector fundraising cycle. Now, we’d like to see it directed where it’s currently needed most: the anti-hunger initiatives feeding the rising number of our neighbors who struggle to put food on the table.

These organizations require a consistent flow of funding for food, transportation and storage, and that need is growing. They also need volunteer hands to make that work a little lighter, and whether you can afford to donate please consider offering your time at a local pantry whose mission is rapidly expanding. You will see that those being served come from all walks. Young families with small children; college students scraping by; the homeless; those teetering on the edge of homelessness; seniors on fixed incomes forced to choose between buying medication or groceries.

Standing between these human beings and hunger are the everyday heroes doing the unseen and unsung work behind the scenes of your local food pantry. Now more than ever, these folks who constantly meet the needs of others need help themselves. Let’s follow their example and meet the call. And let’s make an effort to express gratitude and moral support to the volunteers who keep these vital programs running. To those folks: You have our heartfelt thanks.

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