By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Region – When school closes for the summer, the students” free and reduced-price lunch program also ends. According to the recently released Summer Nutrition Status Report 2013 from the Food Research and Action Center in Washington, D.C., “[F]or every seven low-income students who depended on the National School Lunch Program during the regular 2011-2012 school year, only one child received summer meals in July 2012.”
A local resource for those in need of assistance is the Worcester County Food Bank (WCFB), which serves 60 communities in central Massachusetts including Northborough, Shrewsbury, Southborough and Westborough. It's one of 200 food banks nationally in the network known as Feeding America.
Jean McMurray joined the WCFB staff in 1995 as the agency relations coordinator, and has served as executive director since 1998. She has observed the need for assistance continuing in the summer and beyond.
“Families with limited resources may be having to provide three meals a day for their children, as opposed to one or two when they have access to school breakfast and lunch,” McMurray noted. “We don's see the need going down at all in the summer months. We'se here year-round.”
Founded in 1982, WCFB is a nonprofit organization with the mission to create a hunger-free community. In 1997, WCFB moved from a 16,000-square-foot space to its current location, a 39,000-square-foot facility at 474 Boston Turnpike (Route 9) in Shrewsbury. The move increased the capacity to store and distribute food, recruit volunteers, and expand programming. There are currently 16 staff members and over 400 volunteers.
The WCFB serves as a centralized collection and distribution point, which works with the county's local agencies. They'se currently partnered with 149 agencies including food pantries, community dinners and shelters.
“We call them our “partner agencies” because we really do need each other,” McMurray explained. “Last year we distributed about 5.3 million pounds of food, and we'se doing about the same this year. We would never be able to distribute that amount of food to people throughout Worcester County without these agencies because they'se so local; just as the agencies wouldn's be able to store that amount. It's a wonderful partnership.”
While the food distributed includes nonperishables such as dry and canned goods, the top categories are fresh fruits and vegetables, and frozen protein in the form of meat, poultry and fish.
“We'se now distributing a lot more perishable food because it's available from many local farms that support us,” McMurray said. “Also, the supermarkets and food retailers are now donating perishables. We have two trucks that pick up a lot of the perishables. We'se keeping good food from going to waste and using it to help those who need it.”
About a third of the food is donated by supermarkets and local food drives. Another third is from the United States Department of Agriculture. The rest comes from state funding through the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program.
“Very few states have a program like we do here in Massachusetts,” McMurray said. “We'se very grateful to our legislators that they care about feeding people.”
Most monetary donations come from individuals, each of whom receives a thank-you note from McMurray. She has thanked donors for contributions ranging from 25 cents to $100,000. Her notes include a postscript with an invitation.
“I always say to people that if they want to learn how their donation is making a difference, they can come and visit us,” she said. “There's usually someone available to give a tour and answer questions.”
For information about WCFB, call 508-842-3663 or visit foodbank.org.