While it’s said that actions speak louder than words, Worcester State University’s Intergenerational Urban Institute effectively combined the two for the annual observance of Hunger Awareness Day on Thursday, November 15.
IUI hosted an hour-long panel discussion on food security as well as the University’s annual Empty Bowl event, proceeds from which benefited several local food pantries.
“IUI tries to channel the energies of people of all ages to find solutions to problems in our society,” explained Maureen Power, Ph.D., the institute’s executive director and professor of Urban Studies, to an audience of more than 100 students. “What this panel wants to do today is spread some of these good ideas.”
The panel featured Jean McMurray, executive director of the Worcester County Food Bank; Liz Sheehan, director of the Worcester County Food Policy Council; Sheilah Dooley, executive director of Pernet Family Health Services; Casey Burns, food justice program director for the Regional Environmental Council of Central Massachusetts; Kristin Bafaro, executive director of the Community Harvest Project; and Iva Hoxha, a student at South High School who helps with its Backpack Project.
Each spoke of specific ways her organization alleviates hunger in Worcester County.
“One in five people face hunger nationwide,” McMurray said. “One in eight face it in Worcester County.”
Fighting hunger involves more than providing food to those in need, according to McMurray. The food bank collaborates with a variety of community groups to distribute fresh produce and frozen protein to its client organizations.
The Food Policy Council is one of these organizations. Sheehan reviewed the programs it has created to deliver healthier food to the poor, especially children. Those include providing free breakfast to children attending 16 Worcester Public Schools, opening farmers markets in low-income neighborhoods that accept SNAP, WIC and senior citizen coupons, and running Cooking Matters classes to teach people how to cook healthy food on a tight budget.
Dooley said Pernet is seeing more middle class families frequent their food pantry, which gives clients three days’ worth of food at each visit. Many of these families “aren’t used to getting food from a food bank,” she said.
Pernet gave out food 10,000 times last year, the equivalent of 36,000 meals, Dooley added.
The Regional Environmental Council’s food justice programs “are designed to address the obstacles to healthy nutrition,” Burns said. Its programs include Youth Grow and UGROW community gardens.
Hoxha said that the South High School Backpack Program served 100 students. The school’s food pantry is stocked with staples such as rice and beans as well as baby food and cooking supplies such as vegetable oil and flour. Students and community partners such as UNUM donate the food, she said.
With the help of 9,000 volunteers, Bafaro said, Community Harvest Project donated 250,000 pounds of produce to the Worcester County Food Bank. CHP’s goal is to increase access to fresh produce in area communities, she added.
After the panel presentations, volunteers sold bowls of soup donated by Chartwells, bread donated by Panera, and apples donated by Niecwicz Farms. Proceeds benefited St. Paul’s Food Pantry, Pernet Food Pantry, Worcester County Food Bank and Community Harvest Project. To date, $745 has been raised. The IUI office will continue to accept donations through December 4.
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