Sitting in front of a room with the attention of lawmakers and nonprofit and business leaders, Donnette McManus shared her story.
"On July 26, 2019, I became mother of three."
She said her entire world shifted when her sister passed away days after giving birth to a baby McManus would raise as her own. With three mouths to feed, she found herself in need of help.
"One of the things that was a barrier was that I earned income. When I tried to access resources because of my new situation, the barrier was 'you make too much money. You are not eligible.'”
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Her experience helped set the tone for a conversation about food insecurity at Roxbury Community College.
Massachusetts State Rep. Andy Vargas was one of the panelists. He was among lawmakers who attended the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health in D.C. Wednesday, where President Joe Biden announced his goal of ending hunger by 2030.
Vargas said that effort work cannot fall on non-profits alone. He said the pandemic prompted the
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"Families had free school meals, no questions asked for the first two years of the pandemic. We’ve just extended it for this third year for this third school year thanks to an appropriation for the Mass. House of Representatives, $110 million and we are hoping to make that permanent,” said Vargas. “The federal government should step up to the plate. That’s their role to fund that but if they don’t we’re going to make the case to continue doing that here in Mass. because we’ve heard about the impact that that’s had not only on students, but on the wallets of parents that are struggling with inflation.”
College students are struggling too. Lisa Carter works with RCC Project Access and said in a recent survey of more than 100 students, 64% said they were food insecure. Many didn’t know where or how they were going to provide food for their children. Another concern is the prevalence of diet-related diseases.
"One of the main takeaways from the conference was about 80% of our health care dollars are spent on treating preventable diseases, these are diseases that a lot of times food and nutrition and our lifestyle can change and so when we think about the impact of investing in food security it’s not just the health reasons, nutrition reasons or economic reasons, it’s really about saving money in our healthcare system too," said Vargas.
This week Massachusetts received federal approval for a Medicaid waiver that enables partnerships between organizations like Project Bread and healthcare centers to help patients address barriers to accessing healthy food.
"Many don't have refrigerators, stoves, pots and pans," said Erin McAleer, president and CEO of Project Bread. "We support transportation, so they can get to and from the grocery store. We signed them up for SNAP and provide grocery store gift cards to get at the economics of it. So that program is both an example of the direct service work that we do to help people in Massachusetts, but we're also lifting it up as a national model."
Catherine D’Amato, CEO and president of the Greater Boston Food Bank says while food insecurity has worsened, with one in three households in Massachusetts experiencing it, she is hopeful. She says the biggest challenge in meeting the president’s goal is Congressional legislation.
"Can they actually cross the aisle and do what is good for the country and good for people? Because when people are food secure they are able to own homes, they are able to be participants in their community, they are healthier, it’s less pressure on our healthcare system on and on and on. The biggest barrier is going to be can we actually put legislation behind this vision."