EEH Addresses Hunger and Poverty at the Community Level

It is important to remember that hunger and poverty are issues that affect every neighborhood every day of the year. These are complex issues requiring our attention on both the policy and community levels, and eradicating them will take time and a multi-system approach. More effective and compassionate policies that make it easier for working families to make ends meet are part of the long-term solution. In the meantime, community programs that can meet immediate needs and serve as a point-of-entry for services are equally important. Community centers like East End House in Cambridge have been filling this role since the 1800s.

There has been a 77 percent increase in the number of households using the East End House Emergency Food Program in the last year, and the majority of families utilizing this service survive on a single income. This is generally not enough to support a family as is evident by the fact that 65% of consumers fall below the Federal Poverty Level. According to Project Bread, a family of four living in Massachusetts needs an income twice the Federal Poverty Level to be economically self-sufficient. The reality for many families is a choice between paying rent or purchasing adequate food.

Too often families in this situation go hungry or purchase less expensive foods that tend to be high in saturated fat and sugar. Here at East End House, we use a holistic approach that includes offering healthier options at the food pantry and in the community. Last year, our Emergency Food Program distributed over 11,000 pounds of groceries including meat, cheese and fresh produce to over 380 households every month, and most of those people receive government benefits such as Food Stamps or Social Security Income. This demonstrates the need for community assistance programs in combating hunger and malnutrition.

In addition to the regular food pantry services, we undertake an annual Thanksgiving Turkey Basket Giveaway to families who could not otherwise afford a Thanksgiving meal. This year we provided over 475 baskets filled with all the ingredients for a festive holiday feast, including a turkey and fresh produce, to families using one of our many services or those referred through a social service agency.

We also provide fresh fruits, produce, eggs, breads, and lean meats to seniors who are not mobile enough to come to the pantry. East End House partners with two low-income senior housing facilities in Cambridge to offer the Free Farmer's Market. Once a month over 200 seniors walk to the lobby of their building to pick out their favorite foods. This event additionally provides seniors with an opportunity to socialize and enjoy some entertainment, including live music and even performances from Shakespearean plays. And through the Infant Needs and Necessities Program, families in need can pick up formula, diapers and many other infant supplies from the Community Programs Office.

East End House strives to provide community services that mitigate the effects of poverty and work towards eliminating hunger in our community. There are many needs that go beyond nutrition. The Emergency Food Program, for example, meets these needs by serving as a referral source for mental health services, government assistance programs and many other services that provide assistance to struggling families and individuals. Sound policies that make it easier for families to reach economic self sufficiency, coupled with community programs that address immediate needs and serve as a point of entry for longer-term services are all part of the solution to eradicating hunger and poverty in our communities.

Michael J. Delia is the President and Chief Executive Officer of East End House in Cambridge.

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