As West Springfield Mayor Will Reichert dropped a box of food into the back of an SUV Saturday morning, the Massachusetts Military Support Foundation had formally distributed its one-millionth pound of food from its Western Mass Farmers to Families Food Drive.
“That’s a lot of food,” Reichert said just after loading up the car inside the Better Living Center at the Big E. “It really shows the veterans community and how it comes together. During the time of the pandemic when there are food insecurity issues across the region to see these folks come together to get donations and distribute them like this is really awesome.”
Reichert said that while it is good that programs such as the Farmers to Families program are available, the fact that so many people are depending on it is disturbing.
“What does it tell you about the population we have that so many people are coming out here for free food ‚” he said. “It just goes to show that food insecurity is an issue that a lot of people face, especially now in the pandemic and resulting job losses. It’s a problem we know we have but we don’t usually see. It means in the future we need to take a harder look as to how we are supporting people.”
Site Manager Ken Melanson said the program started in October when the Cape Cod based-Massachusetts Military Support Foundation received a contract from the federal Department of Agriculture to distribute food from its Farmer to Families program in what is called Patriot Farm Food boxes.
The drive originally set up shop behind the Eastfield Mall, where lines of hundreds of cars would come each Saturday to receive the food boxes.
Earlier this month, the operation was moved into the enclosed Better Living Center at the Eastern States Exposition where it is more comfortable and safer for recipients and the volunteers who load vehicles.
The Food Drive started when the COVID-19 pandemic created two distinct problems: Huge unemployment and farmers and related industries sitting on stockpiles of product.
Farmers and food distributors across the country were suddenly faced with overstocks of good quality food due to supply chain disruptions. The food was there but restaurants, schools and other bulk users had closed. The solution was to get those millions of pounds of food into the hands of those people hungry because they lost jobs.
Each weekend, thousands of cars line up at sites much like the Eastern States Exposition distribution center and Melanson’s crews of volunteers swing 32-pound Patriot Farm Food boxes of fruit, vegetables, dairy products and meat into each car.
Phil Levy is one of Melanson’s volunteers. He drives to the site from Holyoke each Saturday, rain, snow or frigid temperatures.
“I’m retired, so this is my new occupation,” he said with a grin.
Levy said the people he sees coming through the line seem to have nice cars, but are accepting free food. He hears about that a lot.
“You see a lot of people with nice cars but they may have lost their job or they could be struggling. You know when you don’t have money in hand you got to eat.”
Melanson said the program accepts all comers, anyone who registers online at www.mmsfi.org for the distribution gets the food, with no questions asked or income verification necessary.
Saturday saw some 4,000 boxes of food packed into recipients’ cars thanks to volunteers from the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, led by Sheriff Nick Cocci himself, along with West Springfield Police Chief Paul Connor and some of his officers, more than a dozen Springfield police officers and rotating crews from the American Legion, the Springfield DAV, the New Black Association of Springfield and the Longmeadow Veterans’ Council, among other organizations.
Published at Sat, 30 Jan 2021 19:13:23 +0000