Hunger and the Holidays

By Julia Raymond

For most holidays in America, tradition has given way to food. For others, like Thanksgiving, tradition is food. November is synonymous with turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. But in the United States, there are many families who will struggle to put food on the table, let alone turkey, this Thanksgiving.

Fortunately, organizations such as The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) are working to reduce food insecurity in eastern Massachusetts. As the largest hunger-relief organization in New England, GBFB distributes 36.7 million pounds of food annually. This Thanksgiving, they hope to supply 40,000 turkeys to families in need through their annual online Turkey Drive. Individuals are invited to form “Turkey Teams” to raise money. For every $16 raised, GBFB provides a 12 to 14-lb Thanksgiving turkey to one of its member food pantries, soup kitchens, or shelters, who then distributes it to families in need. The online component of the drive, which began in 2008, has succeeded in increasing distribution each year with a record of 40,215 turkeys delivered last Thanksgiving.

A little digital creativity has gone a long way for GBFB’s fundraising approach. The campaign website allows teams to set fundraising goals and invite friends and family members to make donations online. Donors can then track the teams’ efforts and follow the “Turkey Ticker” which tallies the total number of turkeys raised.

Thanksgiving offers ample opportunity to raise awareness about regional food insecurity, but the Turkey Drive represents only a small fraction of the GBFB’s efforts. GBFB works with over 550 hunger-relief agencies in nine counties across eastern Massachusetts. The majority of food is acquired through food industry donations and food drives or purchased using financial donations and public funding. The food is then sorted with the help of over 16,000 volunteers at their headquarters in the Newmarket Business District in Boston.

The vast majority (90%) of the food is distributed to those in need through an expansive network of food pantries, community meal programs, homeless and residential shelters, youth programs, senior centers, and day-care centers. The remaining ten percent is distributed directly to seniors and children through thirty direct service programs including the Kids Cafe, Brown Bag, Mobile Pantry, and the BackPack Program.

I recently had the pleasure of touring The Greater Boston Food Bank with their Nutrition Director, Kendra Bird, RD, LDN, and Assistant Nutrition Manager, Adriene Worthington, RD, LDN. The organization relocated to its new site, the Yawkey Distribution Center, in April 2009. The warehouse boasts 33,000 square feet dedicated to dry storage and 100,000 cubic feet for refrigerated and frozen foods. To keep their stock organized, GBFB utilizes an electronic barcode system. Each box of organized product receives a ‘license plate’ that contains detailed information about where and how that box should be stored, the date that it arrived and the date that it expires.

Amongst its many other impressive traits, the facility is also environmentally friendly, employing features such as a passive solar wall, a light monitor for reducing lighting costs, and an energy efficient refrigeration system. The Yawkey Center was awarded LEED silver certification by the U.S. Green Building Council this past June.

The additional storage and distribution space at the Yawkey Center will be crucial for supplying food assistance demands, which have increased 23% since 2005.  Kendra and Adriene work hard to monitor both the quantity and quality of food donations. To assess nutritional quality, they use a tool called CHOP (Choosing Healthy Options) that was developed by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. In addition to ensuring adequate quality of donated foods, Kendra and Adriene train agency staff and volunteers in safe food handling and preparation and conduct nutrition workshops. They also advocate for more nutritious donations for GBFB such as fruits, vegetables, and lean protein.

The upcoming holiday season highlights a striking paradox: despite the overabundance of food that marks many of our celebrations, the need for food assistance is greater than ever. Hunger, however, is not limited to the holidays. No matter what month it is, take a break from studying food aid and go provide some. Every volunteer can make a difference – one turkey at a time.

How you can get involved:

  • Participate in the Turkey Drive. Start a Tufts Turkey Team this year or donate directly. Go to http://www.gbfb.org/turkeydrive/ for information on how to register or make a donation.
  • Spread the love. Volunteer at one of GBFB’s partner agencies. St. Francis House and the Boston Rescue Mission are both convenient to Tufts’ Boston campus. To find other partner agencies or one near you go to http://www.gbfb.org/need-food/index.php.
  • Text 20222 and $10 (which purchases 25 meals) will be donated directly to GBFB. The charge will be reflected on your monthly cell phone bill.
  • Doodle! Use your iPad or smartphone to doodle a turkey at http://giveadoodle.org/splash.html. It’s free for you and GBFB sponsors will donate one turkey for every doodle submitted.

Julia is a first year Nutrition Communication student at the Friedman School. She enjoys food and cooking, traveling, the New York Times, and a daily dose of inspiration from TED.com.

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