As 2020 slips away, the need for help grows

With the hours ticking down until the new year, this is the time when the appeals and solicitations from arts organizations, museums and charitable nonprofits roll into the email inbox and that mailbox hanging outside the front door.

Every appeal this year is more urgent than ever, as we’ve all seen the devastation in the arts, education, charities and the overall economy wrought by the pandemic.

If you can donate, that’s a blessing and surely appreciated by the recipients. But this year there will be many people across the state under the gun in ways they never imagined a year ago. Back then, being gainfully employed was almost a given. Most people were earning a living that kept the bills paid, filled the grocery cart and helped spur the economy along. That was during “the before” -- before the pandemic eliminated jobs, forced the permanent closing of thousands of businesses, restaurants and arts and culture attractions in the state. 

A year ago, food insecurity was a big problem, as it always has been, according to Catherine D’Amato, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Food Bank. Back then, 1 in 13 people in the state were considered food insecure. Since March, that number jumped to 1 in 8 people – and 1 in 5 children – facing hunger, she told WGBH radio this week.

Acknowledging that it’s been “an unprecedented year” for everyone, the Greater Boston Food Bank – which helps supply food to pantries and food programs in more than 100 Massachusetts cities and towns – finds itself facing “an even bigger surge” in food insecurity as the year comes to an end. 

She said one positive point to the year is the increased awareness of the general public to the problem of food insecurity. Some of that awareness has come, no doubt, from seeing news coverage of long lines of people waiting for food, or from news about the curbside pickup programs for school-aged children in free or reduced-price lunch programs. When the schools are teaching remotely, the need for breakfast and lunch doesn’t go away; many school systems and volunteers have stepped up to keep the meals flowing. 

But outside school lunch programs, D’Amato pointed to the challenge many people faced, even before the pandemic, when having to decide between buying medicine, paying the rent or utilities, or buying groceries. In New England and other cold climates that “heat or eat” dilemma can be severe, and that’s often where food pantries and free meals programs come in.

“We know there will be no vaccine to fix hunger,” D’Amato said.  “We are planning to be in this state of high need (for food) through 2023.”

D’Amato cited the generosity people have shown during this continuing pandemic crisis, but added, “2021 and into ‘22 will be extremely difficult. We’re going to still be seeing hungry people and unemployment lines. We are still going to be seeing individuals and new Americans that need our help.”

The large number of people who found themselves needing charity this year also meant a new wave of people who had never had to ask for help before. If you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes, you imagine how hard it would be to find resources and ask for help, if you’ve never been in need before. For some people, there’s a real stigma in having to go to a food bank or stand in line waiting for help. 

The Greater Boston Food Bank and local organizations like Beverly Bootstraps, Citizens Inn and the Salem Pantry have worked to make information readily available to people in need. No one should go hungry, especially when all they need is information about resources that can help them and their families.

So what can you do?

D’Amato is quick with the answer: donate, advocate or volunteer.

Donate to your local food bank, pantry or meals program. Every dollar that’s donated to local charities goes a long way to keeping people fed. 

Advocate with state and federal lawmakers to ensure government aid keeps coming to the over-burdened programs trying to address the huge demand for food. 

Or volunteer with a food bank or local meals program.

The need is huge and that need is going to be with us for a long time. 

For more information and resources, contact The Open Door, www.foodpantry.org or (978) 283-6776.

 

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