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Editorial: Getting food and fuel

Given the frigid temperatures we’ve been experiencing, we suspect there are more than a few residents of the area who are longingly thinking of joining family or friends someplace warm. After all, this is the time of year that the snowbirds head down to warmer locales.

Taking such a vacation is a luxury, one that we’re glad people can afford .

But there are plenty of Franklin County residents who can only dream of such an escape from the cold. Indeed, they’re facing terrible dilemmas when it comes to staying warm — to pay for fuel to heat the home, or pay for food, the fuel that runs and heats the body.

The 2013 Massachusetts Economic Independent Index says that a family of four in Franklin County, defined as two parents one preschooler and one school-age child, needs an annual income of $59,172 to meet their most basic needs, including housing, food, utilities and health care. No one should be surprised in these economic times that there are families who don’t come close to making that amount.

Here’s another way to look at it: According to the Food Bank of Western Mass., some 135,000 people in the four counties that make up our region of the state face hunger. That’s one in every eight residents. Break it down to Franklin County and the numbers paint a picture of about a 10th of the county’s population experiencing “food insecurity,” which means that these people often don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

That’s why it remains critical that the Food Bank of Western Mass., and others fighting hunger continue to receive support from the community. While it may be on one’s radar to make such a donation during the holiday season, hunger is a year-round struggle for too many in our region.

Meanwhile, it is just as important that residents urge Congress to increase the amount of money budgeted for LIHEAP, the federal program that provides assistance with energy bills. That money has been reduced by 30 percent in recent years. As a number of members of Congress, including Rep. Jim McGovern, wrote in a letter to the president, “... the number of households eligible for assistance continues to exceed available funding.”

And, if they can, people should consider donating money to Community Action of Franklin, Hampshire and North Quabbin Regions, since fuel assistance is the organization’s largest program.

Working together, perhaps we can help to reduce the numbers of those who have to make that awful choice.

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