Last week, we presented the bleak picture of hunger in Cambridge, and the escalating need we are seeing on the ground to over 100 residents at a virtual breakfast and attendees were stunned to hear that the need is so great. This isn’t uncommon. Underneath the misleading, surface-level appearance of wealth that Cambridge is known for runs a deep, underlying current of wealth disparity and food insecurity. As food access providers and Cambridge leaders, we’re no strangers to tight budgets, out-of-the-box thinking, and creative solutions to meet the needs of our community in any way we can. But we realized that we needed to lift our heads up from the work we do each day, and educate residents on the troubling increase in need we are seeing, and drowning in.
Food pantries have served as an invaluable safety-net for our low-income neighbors for years, keeping food on the table as dollars stretch thin. But with widespread layoffs and mass business closures, coupled with fears over a new case surge and an upcoming expiration of key unemployment benefits at the end of the year, the high community need that has been steadily growing since March is now skyrocketing to completely unprecedented levels that food access organizations are struggling to keep up with. Government programs, like Farmers to Families, that were providing much needed food to our communities have become difficult to access, putting more pressure on organizations to purchase food to support their clients.
Statewide, Massachusetts is experiencing the highest percent increase in food insecurity of any state across the country. More locally, the Greater Boston Food Bank currently estimates that 15,080 Cambridge residents, or 13% of Cambridge’s entire population, are food-insecure. This sharp increase in hunger means that one in eight residents you see while running errands don’t know where their next meal is coming from. The food insecurity rate amongst children is even more devastating, with 14.9% of kids in Middlesex County, or 1 in 7 students in your child’s class, lacking reliable access to food.
Community need is soaring as we enter the winter season and a new case surge, and our local non-profits are rising to a herculean challenge. The Cambridge Community Center, for example, is now serving over 250 households each day with their food pantry, compared to an average of 150-200 households per day, four days a week, during the summer. Food For Free’s Home Delivery Program grew 150% from 160 households to almost 400. Similarly, the Greater Boston Food Bank, which distributed 1 million pounds of food to 415,000 people every week before this public health crisis began, is now distributing 2.5 million pounds of food each week to 660,000 people. Each Cambridge food pantry is anecdotally reporting a 10-15% increase in their food pantry lines in the last few months. This sharp uptick in need means our local food access organizations, who already had small budgets pre-COVID, are struggling to keep up and fill in emerging resource gaps throughout our community. Hard times, financially, for businesses and residents alike, mean that these non-profits aren’t receiving the donations they usually depend on to make ends meet, while rent, hazard pay for staff, and other operational costs add up quickly.
A policy order filed Monday night is responding to this need by asking the City to step up to immediately support local food access organizations, and create an outreach campaign to help close the SNAP Gap as a longer-term, sustainable solution to food insecurity. But with the recent exponential need, tighter margins than ever, and so much on the line, even with the City’s support we can’t do this alone; our most vulnerable neighbors need your help too. That’s why we’re launching the “Cambridge Challenge Against Hunger” to fight food insecurity in our community this holiday season. Make a donation to help us reach our $100,000 fundraising goal and stop food insecurity in its tracks.
While some local food pantries are still accepting food donations, giving a monetary gift is the most meaningful way you can support our food access organizations. Not only is it safer amid COVID to make a financial donation online or by check, but doing so also helps relieve the burden of operating costs by helping cover rent for storage space, hazard pay for staff, and so much more. Further, food access organizations can use their industry connections to get a better price on bulk food, making your dollar stretch further to help a family in need.
Celebrations this year will look different than they usually do, but that gives us a new, unique opportunity to forge new traditions, and embody a new meaning of the “season of giving.” Use the money you would have spent on a flight to see relatives or on a holiday party for your friends to make a generous donation to an incredibly worthy cause to make an immediate, heartfelt impact on our community. A gift of just $100 will help feed four families in need through the Food For Free Home Delivery program, or purchase one weeks worth of diapers for four families through the Cambridge Community Center’s food and supply pantry.
This holiday season, we are challenging you to give the gift of food security to your neighbors in need by supporting our local food access organizations and the “Cambridge Challenge Against Hunger” with a generous donation, today. Please see below links to Cambridge-based organizations working to fight food insecurity and keep food on tables across our community. Donate today, to ensure your neighbors have food tomorrow, next month and next year.
Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House
Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee (CEOC)
For a full list of Cambridge Food Resources, please see this list.