Our Opinion: Confronting poverty, hunger in Berkshires

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Addressing poverty in the nation, state and the Berkshires is a critical task, and often a frustrating one. Government certainly plays a role, but helping struggling neighbors, in particular families, is a community-wide responsibility.

Roughly one in 16 children in Massachusetts live in "concentrated poverty" according to a study released in late September by the Annie F. Casey Foundation, which used data from the U.S. Census Bureau for its analysis. This amounts to 90,000 children, most of whom live in Boston and the Gateway Cities, which includes Pittsfield. "Concentrated poverty" is defined as a neighborhood where 30 percent or more or the population is living in poverty. This puts childhood development at a high risk.

In a column in the Sept. 28 Eagle, "Health Take-Away: Hunger in the Berkshires: An all too silent, but stark reality," Pete Gazillo, the director of nutritional health at Berkshire Health Systems, observed that at least one of every 10 households in Berkshire County — roughly 14,300 people — go to bed hungry each night. Many of these people, about one-third of whom are children, are food insecure, meaning that they don't have reliable access to good food. The majority, wrote Mr. Gazillo, are "working poor" who hold multiple jobs, don't earn enough to adequately feed their families, but make too much to qualify for nutrition assistance programs. Through no fault of their own, they are between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

Assistance comes from a variety of places, such as municipal government, farmers, social service agencies, food banks, supermarkets, churches and restaurants. In a letter to the editor, Gordon Clark, coordinator of The Giving Garden at Pittsfield Church of Christ on Valentine Road, reports that the garden yielded 9,000 pounds of locally produced food last year, and the Garden will offer advice to other faith groups that would like to undertake a similar project. "Giving garden offers food project advice," Eagle, Oct. 2.)

Mr. Gazillo suggests ways of addressing this persistent problem, beginning with improving public transportation, the lack of which is at the root of a number of stubborn Berkshire dilemmas. He proposes that the many organizations working on the issue better coordinate their efforts and that older adults and immigrants be better educated about available resources. He maintains that local agriculture can play an ever larger role in ending food insecurity and recommends that the public schools be used to expand access to those local foods.

Poverty and food insecurity can go under the radar, so it is encouraging that so many in the Berkshires are focused on the related issues. More can be done, however, and there is no waiting for government to come to the rescue. We can all help.

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