Berkshire Health Systems’ Director of Nutritional Health Pete Gazzillo penned a recent opinion piece
in which he discusses what may be a shocking statistic to many – that at least 10% of the households in Berkshire County, or about some 14,300 people, suffer from hunger.
“Those neighbors, nearly a third of them children, are food insecure, meaning they don’t have reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food,” Gazzillo wrote. “Even if they have enough to put on the table some days, more often than not they don’t.”
In the Berkshires, Gazzillo noted that two leading nonprofits focusing on hunger – Berkshire Bounty and Backyard Bounty of the Berkshires – merged “to maximize efforts to collect and distribute fresh produce and other food to those in need.”
The health system, like many hospitals in the commonwealth, is also addressing the problem by forming partnerships with schools, restaurants, philanthropies, churches, and others to bring food to those who need it. For example, Fairview Hospital, part of the Berkshire system, partnered with the Berkshire Hills Regional School District’s Summer Project Connect for at-risk students to develop a summer backpack program, which sends food home for the students and their families during summer weekends.
Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, part of Beth Israel Lahey Health, has partnered with World PEAS to hold regional farmers markets that make fresh fruits and vegetables more accessible and affordable for seniors in the community.
Mercy Medical Center, a member of Trinity Health of New England, used its Transforming Communities Initiative to help Springfield groups get funding for a Culinary & Nutrition Center that provides healthy food to 30,000-plus students.
Cape Cod Healthcare is yet another of many hospitals and health systems that is focusing on food as a way to improve the health of its populations. On the Cape, the health system’s community benefits program partners with the Cape Cod Commercial Fisherman’s Alliance and the Family Food Pantry to provide fresh fish to the community at market or near-market rates.
U.S. Representatives James P. McGovern (D-Mass.), the chairman of the House Rules Committee, has made fighting hunger a legislative priority throughout his career. In September, McGovern, along with Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) announced the introduction of a bipartisan bill – The Healthy Breakfasts Help Kids Learn Act – to expand access to healthy school breakfasts for students across the U.S.