On Monday, January 23rd 2023, The MetroWest Food Collaborative (the Collaborative) hosted a Food Access Summit to bring diverse voices to the table to look beyond emergency food, and to talk about the systemic changes that will make the food system stronger, more equitable and work better for everyone in the region.
Congressman Jim McGovern was present and shared his commitment to advancing food equity and justice on a national level and thanked the collaborative for the work that is being done by all those in the room. The Congressman spoke on food insecurity on the national level during the summit. “I think hunger is a political condition. We have the money, we have the food, we have the infrastructure, we have everything. We lack the political will.” He highlighted the role of policymakers as he continued, “We have a White House that has a strategy that they want to move forward on. They have resources they can funnel to local communities. I don't know what’s going to happen in two years, but we have them for two years, and we have a president who said that ending hunger by 2030 in this country is a national priority. We need to get stuff done.” Hopeful for the future, Congressman McGovern left all who were present with a call to action: “No more talk -- Let’s roll up our sleeves and let's make huge amounts of progress in these next two years!”
Amongst the 60 other guests present was Senate President Karen Spilka, Speaker Pro Tempore Kate Hogan and Representative Jack Lewis, who shared regional data, perspectives on unique collaborations they’ve witnessed between Collaborative members, and recognition that policies are necessary to combat the issues of food insecurity within the region. Youth from Voices of the Community and Discovering Hidden Gems also shared first-hand experiences on the role of food access and justice and the impact on their lives.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated pre-existing community hardships, especially the need to get food to residents that was healthy and culturally relevant. "Between the lingering effects of the pandemic and inflation cutting into family incomes, food insecurity presents a grave challenge to Massachusetts communities - particularly low-income communities and communities of color," said Massachusetts Senate President Karen E. Spilka. As of September 2022, 16.6% of households were food insecure throughout the Commonwealth. This is down from the height of the pandemic, but is still double the number of households that were insecure pre-pandemic. It is clear that hunger does not impact everyone equally. One in five households with children (21.5%) statewide struggle with food insecurity, according to data from fall 2022. However, food insecurity remains most prevalent in Latino/a (36.1%), Multiracial (35.8%), and Black (35.7%) households with children. The pandemic made it clear that there were gaps in the food system, and the idea of regionalizing efforts and collaboration became the quickest and most efficient way to address the issue, thus the Collaborative was born.
The Collaborative sits within the MetroWest Shared Public Health Services group, under the Public Health Excellence grant from Massachusetts DPH, with the Hudson Health Department serving as the fiscal agent. The Collaborative’s membership represents a wide range of sectors including municipal public health, public schools, emergency food providers, philanthropy, community health, social services, and community organizing. The Collaborative has fifty members across the Shared Public Health Region (Ashland, Framingham, Hopkinton, Hudson, Maynard, Milford, Millis and Natick) and envisions a thriving food system that delivers food justice for all. Food justice is a holistic and structural view of the food system that sees healthy food as a human right and addresses structural barriers to that right.
Along with advocacy efforts, the Collaborative also strives to increase healthy food access and are utilizing community engagement to excel in their efforts. Monthly calendars with detailed community-specific food resources are distributed throughout the region and on their website (www.MetroWestFoodCollaborative.org/find-food-1) and social media. The Collaborative’s member organizations also run mobile food pantries, farmers markets, food/clothing/supplies distributions and several other programs that promote and advocate for healthy food for all. These dedicated individuals bring many years of experience from living and working within MetroWest. None of these individuals or organizations alone have the capacity to look at the regional data, trends, and policies affecting the regional food system, but by bringing together their knowledge and relationships within the communities, they can begin to tackle systemic issues, such as reducing the SNAP Gap in the region.
“I am grateful to the Collaborative for the vital work they are doing in the region. Combating hunger is an economic justice issue that requires greater support and collaboration among organizations serving our communities. At the legislative level, we have been listening to our constituents and voted to extend free school meals, invest money into the Healthy Incentives Program (which allows people to use SNAP benefits at farmers markets), increase the minimum wage, and to strengthen our Commonwealth's universal health care," said Representative Jack Patrick Lewis. The idea that food insecurity is about political will and not the lack of food was a recurring theme at the summit.
Events such as the Food Access Summit aim to bring the Collaborative’s mission to light for both community members and stakeholders. “It was so exciting to bring together legislators and members of the Collaborative to open the lines of communication around ensuring food security within the region and opportunities to strengthen the regional food system,” said Kali Coughlan, the MetroWest Food Collaborative Coordinator.
The Collaborative would like to thank all who attended the Food Access Summit and who continue to support and participate in achieving our goal of food equity and justice for all! A special thanks to our speakers: Congressman Jim McGovern, Senate President Karen E. Spilka, Speaker Pro Tempore Kate Hogan, Representative Jack Lewis, Jojo Dos Reis & Mabriely Cecilio of Voices of the Community, Nathalya Samaniego of Discovering Hidden Gems, Lino Covarrubia of Jewish Family Services of MetroWest, Jeanne Sherlock of the MetroWest YMCA, Anna Cross of the Metrowest Nonprofit Network and Kali Coughlan of the Hudson Health Department.