JF&CS News Fall 2014

Joining together to stop hungerStarted in 2013, the Greater Boston Hunger Network is a coalition of 32 food pantries, soup kitchens, and food-related programs in 20 towns around Greater Boston.

"The point of a hunger network is to get more and better food to the people who need it," says Alison Kaufman, JF&CS Director of Hunger and Nutrition and founder and leader of this important enterprise. "It provides an ongoing way for food programs to learn from one another, address common challenges, and promote best practices in order to reach more people with more food, more efficiently."

Although the idea of a Hunger Network is not original, no such entity existed in the Greater Boston suburbs. Eleven Hunger Networks already existed such as the ones on Cape Cod, on the North Shore, and in the City of Boston. Alison had heard about hunger networks through contacts at the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB). Her curiosity piqued, she went to visit the one on Cape Cod. "I witnessed a group of professionals working to address hunger in a coordinated way, sharing ideas and helping each other. I felt that we needed something like that in this area. We are unique in that the suburbs of Greater Boston are thought of as relatively affluent. But there are pockets of hunger even here."

A recent focus of the Hunger Network was how to capitalize on the new statewide Commercial Food Waste Disposal Ban which went into effect on October 1, 2014. That legislation requires any entity that disposes of at least one ton of organic material per week to donate or re-purpose the useable food. Options include sending it to composting, animal farms, or energy-generating facilities. The ban affects roughly 1,700 businesses and institutions, including supermarkets, hotels and convention centers, schools, universities, hospitals, nursing homes, and restaurants according to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

"We discussed how food pantries stand to benefit from this new law. We need to make sure that everyone in the Network is aware of the legislation and its implications. The goal is to ‘upcycle' the food that is still perfectly good to eat. In some cases, it might be easier to send it to an alternative route, but we need to take an active role so that institutions will funnel useable food to people who need it," explains Kaufman. Organizations such as Lovin' Spoonfuls and Greater Boston Food Bank make this possible by providing an outlet for supermarkets and other vendors to donate food into
the hunger relief system.

In response to learning about food rescue, one food pantry manager said: "[It] was very helpful [to see] how to get more food out to people who are food insecure. It was great to share ideas on how pantries deal with fresh food. It can be daunting to find avenues to get it to people in need."

Together, Hunger Network members can now fundamentally change how they address hunger. "We all have basically the same goals and challenges, and it is enlightening to hear how other pantries achieve their goals and meet their challenges," says Network member Karen Colatrella. "As we go about our day-to-day operations, we can get pretty insulated. The meetings give us a forum to share information, ask for advice, seek solutions to problems, and offer each other support."

Thanks to the Greater Boston Hunger Network, member organizations can now work together to problem solve, increase efficiency, and make more informed decisions about their operations.

In honor of our 150th anniversary, JF&CS published a special 150th anniversary newsletter. View the entire newsletter online.