As we head into week three of Hunger Action Month, we wanted to focus on the practical aspects of fighting hunger on a very individual level. Hunger is a very real problem in Worcester and surrounding towns. According to statistics from the Worcester County Food Bank , Feeding America, and Project Bread
- 82,951: people in Worcester County who live at or below the poverty level ($23,050 for a family of four)
- $57,000: Annual income needed to support a family of three in Worcester without assistance
- 99,796: people (12% of the population) who received assistance from the Worcester County Food Bank in 2012
- 27,800: children (17.7% of children 18 and under) in Worcester County who live in food insecure households
- 33.5%: the percentage of households with a disabled member who are considered food insecure
To put this another way:
- 1 in 8 of our neighbors sometimes do not know where their next meal is coming from
- 1 in 6 of our children do not always have enough to eat
- 1 in 3 households that include a disabled member do not always have enough food
That means there’s a good chance that you cross paths with someone every single day who is struggling to feed their family, or who has not had enough to eat today, or may be going home tonight to house in which there is no food. If you’re a schoolteacher or you work in another profession with at-risk populations, that good chance becomes a near certainty.
Luckily, Worcester does have a lot of resources for people struggling with food insecurity. They include food pantries, the food banks, and meal programs for people who sometimes need help putting enough food on the table. These resources won’t end hunger in our community permanently, but they do help families and individuals get through rough patches.
The Worcester County Food Bank maintains a search engine that helps people find food pantries and other immediate food assistance close to them. Just enter a zip code into the search box, and get a list of nearby food pantries and meal programs, along with hours of operations, phone numbers and other important information.
The Nutrition Program at Elder Services of Worcester Area offers two important programs for seniors – defined as those who are age 60 or older. The first, and better known, is the Meals on Wheels program, which delivers daily meals to adults age 60 and up, who qualify for their services. For information about Meals on Wheels contact Elder Services of Worcester Area’s Information & Referral Department at 508-756-1545.
The second program provides healthy, hot meals to seniors in communal dining rooms, mostly located at elderly housing complexes, senior centers and other convenient locations. The dining locations include the senior centers in most towns, including the Worcester Senior Center on Providence St. ESWA has an interactive map of Senior Dining Centers on its website.
SNAP benefits are available to families that meet income eligibility guidelines – currently, up to 200% of the federal poverty level. Applying for SNAP can seem intimidating for many people, and a lot of family heads mistakenly believe that they make too much money, or wouldn’t qualify for benefits for other reasons. Project Bread offers an online SNAP calculator to help people calculate whether they qualify and gather the information they need to apply for benefits.
Project Bread also operates a FoodSource Hotline that connects people with emergency food assistance, including referrals to nearby food pantries and meal programs, as well as information and assistance in accessing other nutrition programs, such as WIC (Women, Infants and Children’s Nutrition Program). The hot line is open Mondy-Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., and Saturdays, 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Call 1-(800) 645-8333 for referrals, assistance and information.
As of this year, every Worcester Public School student can eat breakfast and lunch at school free of cost. From the WPS website:
As part of the 2010 Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act, Worcester, along with other districts, will begin offering free meals to all students this school year. For parents, that means no more forms to fill out, no online meal account to remember, no last minute scramble for change before the bus, and no more lunchboxes to pack. All students can eat for free!