Empty plates: Feeding NH’s hungry

The New Hampshire Food Bank has been helping families for 30 years

Think about how often you say, “I’m starving!” and consider how facetious that statement really is in relation to how readily you can access food at home or in a store. Now imagine what it would feel like to hear your child say they’re hungry but know there is no food in the house and you don’t have the money to buy groceries.

Perhaps you’re confident that this will never happen to you, or your family, or anyone you’re close to. But think again; it certainly can.

According to Melanie Gosselin, executive director for the New Hampshire Food Bank, the faces of hunger can be surprising.

“It’s the single mother, the grandparents who take care of their grandchildren, the working family that may have lost their benefits or had their hours cut, our military families,” she said. “Hunger, unfortunately, does not discriminate.

Now celebrating its 30th anniversary, the New Hampshire Food Bank remains true to its original mission — to provide food and resources to those that need it most.

“Our outreach, however, has changed,” said Gosselin. “We now offer programs to help individuals and families break their own cycle of poverty in addition to our food distribution program.”

The New Hampshire Food Bank, a program of Catholic Charities New Hampshire, opened its doors on World Hunger Day in 1984, with the serious task of addressing hunger throughout the state. As the largest distributor of donated food in New Hampshire, the organization has always been run solely through donations; its needs are not supplemented through federal or state funding for food distribution.

Over the past 30 years, the New Hampshire Food Bank has increased services from 16 programs to well over 400. In its early days, the Food Bank was run from 600-square feet of space in a garage but as of 2010, operates out of a 60,000-square foot, 1,800-pallet capacity warehouse in Manchester.

While this milestone anniversary is certainly cause for celebration, particularly by those helped throughout those years by the Food Bank, Gosselin said, “The 30th anniversary is a bittersweet celebration for us as we are forever trying to put ourselves out of business.”

While the nonprofit greatly appreciates and celebrates the generous support of the community, their mission, sadly, is now more in demand than ever before. Without the support of the public, the Food Bank would not be able to reach those most in need.

“Our goal is to not only recognize the continued support and growth of our programs, food distribution and outreach, but to also shed light on the growing need in New Hampshire,” said Gosselin.

At present, 1 in 9 New Hampshire residents live in what is referred to as a “food insecure” environment, meaning they have no idea where their next meal will come from. According to Gosselin, 1 in 5 of those nine residents is a child.

Some of the ways in which the New Hampshire Food Bank is able to assist those in need are through their food distribution program, the Recipe for Success culinary training program, Cooking Matters, SNAP Outreach, a production garden and mobile food pantry.

The Recipe for Success culinary training program targets unemployed or underemployed individuals to help them acquire the skills needed to find gainful employment in the food industry. Cooking Matters, a program of Share Our Strength, offers nutrition education programs specific to adults or children. SNAP Outreach offers assistance to individuals to allow access to the SNAP or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. The Food Bank’s production garden grows fresh produce for use in its programs. Their mobile food pantry, operates much like a book mobile would, providing direct response to community needs through the direct distribution of food.

“We go into neighborhoods that are high need areas,” said Gosselin, “and distribute food from our trucks.”

In 2013, the Food Bank distributed 8.5 million pounds of food, providing about 7.2 million meals through partner agencies statewide.

With an increase in services and statewide need, the challenges, while familiar, increase as well, “with limited resources, food, and or funds to purchase food and support our programs.” said Gosselin.

“The need continues to grow in our state and across the country. In New Hampshire alone, there is a 24 million meal gap.”

So, how can you help? Whether it’s an individual effort or through a community group or business, there are three ways to support the Food Bank’s vital mission: Food, funds and friends.

“Without these resources, we could not do what we do,” Gosselin said. “Every dollar donated helps provide two meals to those in need. Fundraisers, food drives, volunteers, anyone can participate at any level.”

And while the Food Bank is cognizant that not everyone has the means to donate financially or the comfort level to organize a fundraiser or food drive, there’s an easy way to lend a hand: Volunteer.

“We are always looking for volunteers, whether at our facility or at a local soup kitchen or pantry,” said Gosselin. In 2013, volunteers contributed nearly 30,000 hours, and for the Food Bank, that was like having an additional 15 full-time employees.

The New Hampshire Food Bank works collaboratively with many organizations throughout the state, and serves as a referral service to those that need assistance. As a state VOAD—Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster—the Food Bank works proactively with other organizations, such as the Red Cross, in the event of a major flood, ice storm or other natural disaster to ensure displaced family are fed, Gosselin said.

The next time your child says, “I’m hungry” consider that 44,000 children younger than 18 are food insecure in New Hampshire. And think about what it feels like to be the parent or guardian that has no easy answer for that simple question. Think about what you can do — as an individual, as a family or perhaps within the organization you work for — to offer assistance to hungry families in your own community. Contact the New Hampshire Food Bank at 669-9725 or go to nhfoodbank.org to learn how you can help.

Pamme Boutselis is a N.H.-based writer, a content director at Southern New Hampshire University and a serial volunteer. Follow her at pammeboutselis.com or on Twitter @pammeb

Categories: Food news