President of East Boston-based Project Bread Erin McAlee maintains that hunger is a solvable problem in East Boston and Massachusetts.
“Why is there still hunger?” McAlee asked. “We have the resources.”
With Project Bread’s annual Walk for Hunger fundraiser slated for Sunday, May 5 in Boston, McAlee said the agency is doubling its efforts in Eastie with additional community grants. The increase in grant funding to Eastie is part of Project Bread’s continued investment in the neighborhood’s anti-hunger organizations with funds raised from last year’s 50th annual Walk for Hunger.
“First, we are headquartered in East Boston and the neighborhood is really a microcosm of what is going on both in the state and nationally,” said McAlee. “There is a widening gap between income and the ability to keep ahead of the cost of living.”
In East Boston, rising housing costs and gentrification have strained or displaced many longtime residents.
All during the year, Project Bread connects residents to reliable access to food resources such as underutilized federally funded nutrition programs like SNAP and school meals. The Walk for Hunger supports multiple solutions in the food ecosystem including soup kitchens, food pantries, community farms and gardens and food rescue.
“We’ve been doing a lot of work in East Boston over the past year and grant spending here has increased to over $93,000 overall,” said McAlee. “These grants include agencies that support summer food programs, SNAP, school breakfast programs. We are really making an effort to support solutions to combat food insecurity in the neighborhood.”
Eastie agencies like APAC, City Sprouts, Crossroads Family Shelter, the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, the Eastie Greenhouse and Fresh Truck are just some of the local organizations Project Bread is supporting.
“The poverty level here is 15.3 percent and many don’t have $500 in disposable savings for an unexpected emergency,” said McAlee. “This means many residents are one paycheck away from disaster.”
McAlee added that while the causes of hunger in Eastie and Massachusetts are varied, one thing remains constant—hunger affects people from all walks of life in every community. Massachusetts is one of the wealthiest states in the country, and food insecurity impacts one in 10 households in the Commonwealth yet the issue remains largely invisible.
“You can’t tell a person is hungry by looking at them,” she said. “I personally was food insecure when I was 5, after my parents divorced. I felt my mom’s constant stress trying to figure out how to earn enough to put healthy food on the table and pay the mortgage. I know firsthand the larger implications hunger can have on a family.”
Last year the Walk for Hunger raised $2.4 million dollars. More than $1 million of that was granted back to community based anti-hunger programs throughout the state.
“Food is a basic human need and yet the social climate in our country right now is to place blame, point fingers, and pass judgements about why a person is struggling to afford food for themselves and their families,” said McAleer. “We want to increase understanding about who is hungry in our community and why. With understanding comes compassion, and with compassion comes action.”
Individuals looking to support Project Bread can help make an impact within their region by registering for the 2019 Walk for Hunger and 5k Run, which will be held Sunday, May 5 in Boston. This year the event includes a new three mile walk route.
For more information on the digital awareness campaign, visit www.projectbread.org/raisetheissue.