Every Sunday morning we follow a habit, a weekly practice.
I sit at the kitchen counter, cup of steaming coffee on my right, the newspaper splayed out in front of me.
Theresa, my wife, reads through recipes – online and in books, selecting a balance of proteins and vegetables and fruits, and makes up our weekly shopping list.
Admittedly, we do not ask, "Is this too expensive?” or, “Can we afford this?”
Millions of Americans have a similar habit.
And millions do not.
In 2021, 53 million people turned to food banks and community programs for help putting food on the table, according to the nonprofit Feeding America.
At times we label it as hunger, or food insecurity, or working to establish food justice or food equity.
But 53 million of our neighbors needed assistance and support and help. Fifty-three million people – in every community in America.
In the past two-plus years – the COVID years – our United Way has increased our support for vulnerable people.
A perfect example: The Hot Meals Delivery Program, with funding from the Worcester County Food Bank, the City of Worcester, the Fuller Foundation and the Worcester Together Fund was and is a collaborative effort. The Healthy Greater Worcester Coalition, Central West Justice/Community Legal Aid, the Main South CDC, the Worcester Community Action Council, the Family Resource Center, the Worcester Together Logistics Committee and Legendary Legacies all worked together to deliver more than 36,000 meals from 12 local restaurants to families and individuals in quarantine due to COVID.
Our local YMCA of Central Massachusetts repurposed its early education/out-of-school-time vans and created a home delivery service, delivering more than 1.2 million meals to local families to ensure nutrition and health.
2Gether We Eat builds hydroponic gardens and planting beds. It specifically focuses upon community organizations and youth groups – hoping to grow healthy food and teach youth about farming and nutrition. One such program is located at Webster Square Daycare, where a child was overheard saying, “I never knew kale tasted so good.”
Working in collaboration with the Worcester Red Sox, Worcester State University, Ocean State Job Lot, the Massachusetts Military Support Foundation, the Worcester Railers, Polar Beverages and Table Talk Pies, we organized a winter “drive-through food pantry” in January 2021.
Once a week over four weeks we distributed 102,480 pounds of fresh and shelf-life food and cases of water, more than 6,000 tasty pies and close to 1,000 cartons of feminine hygiene products. I was at each drive-through food pantry and saw the "eyes of thanks," and heard the great appreciation from people – people like you and me: Veterans, young families with children, seniors, those with disabilities, those who were gainfully employed until March or April of the previous year.
Aware of the importance of nutrition, the idea that "food is medicine," we created the “Farm to Market to Pantry to Table” effort. This was and is a collaborative effort between Maker to Main, a beautiful store here in Worcester that sources food from more than 150 local makers and local farms, and El Buen Samaritano Food Program on Piedmont Street. This effort has provided thousands and thousands of pounds of fresh, organic, locally grown food to our neighbors.
Multifaceted. collaborative. communitywide and community-shared. Over time – immediate, short-term and long-term.
This Wednesday, for the first time in 50 years, there will be a White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. I am excited to watch, to listen, to learn. I am even more excited for what will happen after the conference – what we will implement to bring us close to food justice and food security for all.
I am hopeful that because of this conference, Theresa and I will soon be able to have breakfast every morning knowing that our federal government is doing everything possible to make sure that no American has to ask whether or not they can afford food.
I am deeply thankful for Congressman James P. McGovern for having the sheer force of will to bring us this White House conference so that we – America - may address and solve the issue of hunger for all.
Tim Garvin is president and CEO of the United Way of Central Massachusetts.
This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Tim Garvin: Solving the issue of hunger for all