Two Gleaners demonstrating the value of partnership.
Food Security Now and into the Future: Our Partnership with Amherst Survival Center
Jodi Falk, Executive Director of Rachel’s Table of Western Massachusetts, recently spoke with Lev BenEzra, Executive Director of the Amherst Survival Center, (ASC), a partner recipient agency of RTWM’s that was established in 1976 in response to the growing phenomenon of poverty and homelessness in Western MA. The topic: ASC’s actions towards the crisis in hunger due to covid and climate change.
One of the most sustainable and ongoing focuses in Amherst Survival Center’s services is the expansion of access. This goal – getting more food to more people – has been Lev’s (and the Center’s) main thrust since becoming E.D. in January 2019. Access at ASC consists of making programs and services accessible to more people – geographically and hospitably, with inclusivity at its core.
The pandemic was a catalyst, as it was to many nonprofit organizations, to creating changes that are now embedded in daily operations. ASC began food delivery, curbside delivery, and expanded on-site grocery options. Lev and her colleagues made the Center feel more welcoming to more people by breaking down language and other barriers such as scheduling and transportation, and ensuring culturally diverse and meaningful food for their clients.
The pandemic was also a catalyst to high rates of hunger that have not gone down. By January 2023, ASC had begun serving 25-40% more people each month than during the peak of the pandemic. The number of people served now is 80% higher than prior to the pandemic. We are in a hunger crisis that isn’t going away, and while the pandemic may be officially over, Lev spoke about inflation that has impacted exponentially the most basic needs – food, rent, and gas – whose rates have risen higher than wages. People who lost jobs during the pandemic haven’t caught up on lost time and income, and for some have reentered the workforce with lower wages. The highly effective, but temporary federal and state benefits – child tax credits, stimulus checks, increase in SNAP benefits – were safeguards, but have stopped. The pandemic ended and so did the support.
On top of increased inflation and decreased support, add the climate crisis, which we’ve seen affect our local farms just this year with an early freeze and major floods. And, of course, climate change isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon.
Solutions? Lev is clear. Fix the most basic barrier: poverty. People need money to buy food. Along with a livable wage is also universal childcare, healthcare, affordable housing, systems to support folks with disabilities, and addressing the long-term economic impact of systemic racism.
Act. Advocate. Effective federal policy, Lev states, “is under attack in congress.” Instead of attacks, it needs support – TEFAP AND MEFAP, federal and state emergency food assistance programs, the farm bill, and more need to be expanded, not reduced. One thing Lev is also sure about – “we have enough food in our community and need critical resources to fill this emergency gap while we work on long-term solutions, including recovering food that would otherwise go to waste.” That is where Rachel’s Table fits in – filling that gap and ensuring food is recovered and distributed. The RTWM/ASC partnership has been going strong since the pandemic. Recently, as Rachel’s Table doubled its deliveries in Hampshire County since becoming its own nonprofit on July 1, RTWM has delivered meat to ASC, which, Lev emphasized, was a “game-changer.” ASC had been experiencing lack of meat due to supply-chain disruptions, and now, in part because of RTWM, ASC can bring back its full allocation of meat to its clients.
As the climate crisis and covid-related problems like supply-chain disruptions become more the norm, there is work to be done. Western MA is rich in agricultural resources; supporting our local farms is key. Diversifying food sources as well as supporting local growers is important for all levels of providers – including state and federal government. Working together across sectors – private, nonprofit, government, is the only way to approach real, sustainable food security. Rachel’s Table is proud to partner with Amherst Survival Center, along with many others, to fill the emergency gap as well as find solutions together towards food security in an ever-changing world.