Campus & Community

Community Gifts finds food at the top of wish list this holiday season

3 min read

Wanted: 38,000 turkeys — needed by Thanksgiving.

That’s the magic number for The Greater Boston Food Bank’s (GBFB) annual Turkey Drive, where just $15 provides a meaty turkey to families across eastern Massachusetts for the holiday. Yet with winter swiftly approaching, Thanksgiving is just the threshold for the need the GBFB anticipates this season.

Recently, students from Harvard Business School volunteered their time at the GBFB by sorting more than 7,000 pounds of food — food that will provide more than 4,000 meals.

“Harvard University has been an ardent supporter of The Greater Boston Food Bank for over 20 years,” says GBFB President and CEO Catherine D’Amato, noting that students and staff from many of Harvard’s Schools volunteer regularly. “We rely on their support and the people who give generously of their time, money, and food to help feed the people who need our support during these tough economic times.”

However, when many people consider hunger it conjures images of children starving in Africa. For so long, hunger seemed a problem particular to faraway countries — an unfortunate misconception that has created a silent hunger epidemic in the United States. Though rarely discussed openly, hunger affects more than 25 million Americans each year. With its steep rents and cold temperatures, Massachusetts is especially vulnerable — and more so with the economy on the fritz.

Hard to believe when there’s no shortage of food. But when fairly commonplace factors such as deaths in the family, high oil costs, or lost jobs come into play, a family’s well-being is jeopardized, and the monetary setbacks can be crippling.

But more and more it’s not just families who are struggling, but also the organizations that seek to assist the hungry and homeless. Of the GBFB’s 600-plus hunger-relief agencies — which include food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless and residential shelters, and more — 90 percent recently reported an increase in demand, while decreasing donations and higher food costs require that they fend for themselves.

“This year the ‘perfect storm’ of factors has hit our member agencies hard,” D’Amato says. “Food costs are higher. Job losses continue. Fuel costs remain high, and foreclosures are on the rise. Individuals and families across the commonwealth are hungry and turning to food pantries and soup kitchens for help.”

The GBFB and its members regularly feed 83,000 people a week, with numbers on the rise. Since 1993, the GBFB’s food distribution has grown 300 percent. No wonder, then, that a campaign was launched for a new “green” facility with capacity to accommodate greater amounts of donated food. “Moving to a new distribution center would enable us to significantly increase the amount of food we distribute and to help more people in our region,” D’Amato says. “Our new distribution center is key to our mission to end hunger in eastern Massachusetts.”

The new building, slated for completion in fall 2009, will be outfitted with more refrigeration space, a feature stemming from new trends of perishable donations, which coincides with the GBFB’s goals of providing not only food but nutritious food to people in need.

“The campaign is not about a building, it is about people,” D’Amato says.

And with the Community Gifts Through Harvard campaign under way, there’s no better time than now to make a difference.