In 10 years, Belly Bus Food Drive collected 17 tons

This year’s drive is on Aug. 8

GREENFIELD — It’s that time of year again — the time to enjoy summer swims and refreshing creamies, but also the time when some children and families start to worry where their next meal will come from.

For 10 years, the Franklin County Hunger Task Force, a subcommittee of the Franklin County Resource Network, has been trying to fill this gap during the last few weeks of summer, when school-based summer meals programs end, and before the school year, which provides free and reduced-price lunches, begins.

Over the last decade, the task force has organized the annual Fill the Belly Bus Food Drive, which has collected more than 17 tons of food and thousands of dollars for local emergency food programs, with the goal of stocking food pantry shelves during the two-week gap between free summer meal programs for low-income children and the start of school meal programs in the fall.

This year’s food drive, on Aug. 8, hopes to raise more than last year, when about 3,000 pounds of food and $3,200 was gathered with the support of 40 local businesses.

The drive benefits the Franklin County Community Meals Program, Franklin Area Survival Center, Greenfield Salvation Army, Center for Self Reliance, the Stone Soup Cafe and the Northfield Food Pantry.

The resource network is sponsored by anti-poverty agency Community Action, one of the largest nonprofit organizations in western Massachusetts.

The gap extends from Aug. 16 to Aug. 28, a lapse of seven weekdays in which families have to provide food three times a day for children.

One of the beneficiaries is the Center for Self Reliance food pantry in Greenfield, a program of Community Action.

“This time is the busiest time of year,” said Dino Schnelle, the food pantry coordinator. “It’s when families become responsible for feeding three meals a day to children. Many kids get breakfast and lunch during the school week and with summer meals they get at least lunch.”

The bus drive usually has a great impact on the food pantry, which provided food to 1,065 people and gave more than 18,000 pounds of food this June. The food pantry is serving one-third more people than two years ago, Schnelle said.

In Massachusetts, 11.9 percent of children live in food insecure households, according to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

This is the peak season for the Greenfield pantry when the increased number of people visiting the pantry clashes with the decreased amount of food.

“It makes a huge difference for us to have enough food on the shelves,” Schnelle said.

Individuals are invited to donate nonperishable food items, such as canned soups and stews, canned fruit, peanut butter and jelly, pasta and sauce, and baby food, as well as personal care supplies, laundry detergent and disposable diapers, on the Greenfield Town Common that day between 3 and 5 p.m., or look for the yellow school bus logo in the windows of local businesses.

To commemorate the anniversary, this year F.M. Kuzmeskus donated a real school bus to pick up donations. In the past, the bus was figurative and volunteers collected donations in their cars, according to Holly Kosisky, the coordinator of asset development and community collaboration at Community Action.

The bus will be available at the Greenfield Stop & Shop from 9 to 10 a.m. and Foster’s Super Market from 11 a.m. to noon on that Friday

The bus will then pick up donations collected by long-standing supporting businesses such as Judd Wire, Bete Fog Nozzle, Greenfield Savings Bank and Greenfield Cooperative Bank.

It will make its final stop on the Greenfield Town Common, where all donations will be collected, weighed and sorted from 3 to 5 p.m. A drive-up service will be provided for people who want to deliver nonperishable food items by car during that period.

Food and cash donations will also be collected the Thursday before the drive from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Coop Concert in the Energy Park, sponsored by the Franklin County Musicians Cooperative.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at: kmckiernan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 268 On Twitter, follow @RecorderKatMcK

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