Let’s load up on the Belly Bus


Published: 8/5/2018 4:59:54 AM

As the Community Collaboration Coordinator for Community Action Pioneer Valley, I use my skills, experience, and passion to help our community come together to solve problems. Right now, I’m focused on two key issues core to Community Action’s mission as an anti-poverty agency. Today, in our community, people are hungry, and people do not have a safe, stable, sanitary, legal place to live. Today, I’m helping make sure our neighbors have enough to eat and a place to stay.

Fourteen years ago, Franklin County Resource Network’s Hunger Task Force recognized a need in our community. Staff at programs that provide emergency food assistance noticed demand increased in late summer between the end of summer youth meal programs and the beginning of school meals. Parents unable to feed their families visited food pantries and meal sites more often.

The Hunger Task Force created the Belly Bus Community Food Drive to collect food and raise funds to support area food-serving programs at this crucial time of year. To engage many community members, they focused on businesses and community groups who interact with many people. Through the Belly Bus, businesses, organizations, faith communities, and individuals help meet this immediate need. Right now, groups are gathering food and funds to help fill the bellies of our hungry neighbors. This past Friday, buses donated by FRTA and TravelKuz visited area grocery stores, and volunteers collected food and funds from shoppers. Food and funds from these efforts will be distributed to five area emergency food programs: Community Action Pioneer Valley’s Center for Self-Reliance and West County Emergency Food Pantry; Franklin Area Survival Center; Franklin County Community Meals Program; Greenfield Stone Soup Café; Salvation Army.

Across our county (and the country), many people do not have a safe, stable, sanitary, legal place to live. In Franklin County, temporary shelters and subsidized housing have long waiting lists. While many services help people who don’t have a place to live, there aren’t enough shelter beds or affordable homes. That’s why Madelynn Malloy and others are living on the Greenfield Common. That’s why Madelynn and I facilitated several meetings with 30 to 50 community members, including town officials, the Interfaith Council, people who are homeless, business owners, social service providers, and concerned community members. Together, we seek a safe, stable, sanitary, legal place for Madelynn and others to camp between now and Oct. 31 as they wait for places in temporary shelters and permanent housing.

Each person arriving at a food pantry or homeless shelter has their own unique reason for being there. Perhaps they were injured and can no longer work, or their child’s medical emergency wiped out their savings, or their house burned down, or their car broke down and they lost their job after missing work too often, or their medicine costs so much they have to skip meals to pay for it, or working two jobs isn’t enough to afford a home. Or, they’re teenagers who left abusive homes. Or elderly people whose past work paid immediate bills but didn’t allow for savings. Many are young children.

Each story is unique.

They’re all the same.

Each is poor. Their income can’t cover their expenses. Some are poor for a short time, others live with low incomes their entire life. Poverty has many causes, including lack of living wage jobs and the high cost of housing, medical care, and utilities.

Franklin County generously supports programs that help feed our hungry neighbors and that help our neighbors without homes get shelter, and, eventually, permanent homes. Right now, I’m focused on our neighbors’ need for food and a place to stay today. We MUST feed that immediate need.

And, that’s not enough. We also must work to reduce the number of people facing hunger and homelessness. We must shorten the line at food pantries and homeless shelters by working together to address the root causes of poverty. We must invest our energy and dollars in a vibrant economy that supports local businesses so they can provide living wage jobs. We must invest our tax dollars and encourage private investment in affordable housing, transportation that serves our whole community, and affordable health care.

Join me to both feed the immediate need, and work to shorten the line of those who need. Contact me at mmcclintock@communityaction.us.

Mary McClintock is Community collaboration coordinator for
Community Action Pioneer Valley.


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