By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Grafton – Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader of the United States House of Representatives and U.S. Congressman James McGovern (MA-02) led a discussion on the increasing problem of food insecurity in America in a meeting held at the Community Harvest Project (CHP) June 13.
The two were joined by Jodi Koeman, CHP’s executive director, representatives of the Farm to Health Center Initiative (FHCI), students from UMass Medical School and the Family Health Center of Worcester, as well as other community leaders.
FHCI is a collaboration between CHP, UMass Medical School students, and Family Health Center of Worcester physicians. The project is aimed at reducing rates of food insecurity by increasing patient access to and consumption of fresh produce. Patients are also given instructions on food nutrition, including how to prepare simple but nutrient-rich meals.
McGovern and Pelosi both lauded the collaboration between the organizations, calling it a model for other communities to follow.
The two Democrats noted that attempts by Republican members of Congress to reduce initiatives such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps) and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) programs were short-sighted and hurting those most in need, including children, senior citizens and the working poor.
McGovern, as ranking member of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, has been an avid advocate in the effort to reduce hunger throughout the country, both through speeches on the House floor and through his Twitter account, #EndHungerNow.
“This is a passion of mine,” McGovern said. “We are dealing with tens of millions of citizens who are hungry including kids and more and more, senior citizens.”
“Every community in this country has a hunger problem, whether it’s San Francisco, Beverly Hills, New York or Grafton,” he added.
Having a powerful ally such as Pelosi, the former speaker of the United States House of Representatives, was important, McGovern noted.
“She has been in the forefront of demanding that we don’t go backwards,” he said, in regards to the need to assist those citizens who were the “most vulnerable” when it came to food insecurity.
As a mother of five children, Pelosi noted it was hard to hear statistics about children living in poverty and facing food insecurity. That is why, she added, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly called Obamacare) which aims to assure that all Americans have access to affordable health insurance, was so important.
“It is not just about health care but about the health care of America,” she said. “It’s about preventative care.”
John Polanowicz, the former Massachusetts secretary of health and human services agreed, noting “We have the greatest rescue care system in the world but we don’t have the greatest preventative care program.”
“Poor nutrition often leads to obesity which can lead to other problems,” Pelosi said. “If we can reduce [medical care] costs sometimes that’s the only thing that will reach some people.”
As executive director of the Worcester County Food Bank, Jean McMurray oversees an operation that distributes food to 138 partner agencies including food pantries, community meal sites, and shelters.
Forty four percent of the fresh produce they distribute comes from CHP, she said.
“It’s not just about quantity but quality,” she said. “It’s not just being full but also being healthy.”
Both Pelosi and McGovern said the effort to end hunger could be accomplished but only if there was cooperation and collaboration from all entities.
“Solving this challenge is possible,” McGovern said. “It’s not that hard. We have everything we need to do it [except] the political will to make it happen.”
Programs such as the initiative between CHP and FHCI gave him hope, McGovern said.
“Grafton is a forward thinking community. Things are changing throughout the country, faster than they are changing in Washington.”
“CHP is a project that works,” Pelosi praised. “It’s clearly a model of collaboration and success.”