The coronavirus pandemic has driven food insecurity in Massachusetts - Boston Herald

Even as more people get vaccines, many still don’t know where their next meal will come from, especially in eastern Massachusetts.

Food insecurity has increased by 66% and in children by 117% since the coronavirus pandemic began, according to the Greater Boston Food Bank.

“There is no vaccine against hunger,” said Catherine Drennan, a food bank spokeswoman.

Overall, the state has seen food insecurity rise 59%, meaning one in eight people is unsure how to get their next meal, Drennan said. Eastern Massachusetts has been particularly hard hit and one in five children is unsafe, she said.

“When people get vaccinated, our job is far from over,” said Stephanie Tyler Smith, program director at Food for Free, a Cambridge-based famine relief agency.

From May to October, Food For Free distributed boxes of fresh produce collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of its Farmers to Families Food Box program. But access to the program has become more restricted since late fall, Tyler Smith said, and agencies like yours have sought to fill a critical void amid the pandemic.

The Biogen Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Cambridge-based neuroscience company Biogen, Inc., stepped in and gave Food for Free $ 100,000 to help launch a new Just Eats Grocery Box program. Life Science Cares provided $ 50,000 and Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. provided $ 20,000.

Food For Free plans to use the funds to produce 1,000 boxes of food a week and distribute an additional 2,000 each week through the Boston Area Gleaners, a nonprofit that collects surplus agricultural crops for people in need. The boxes will go to schools, pantries, and low-income homes in the Boston area.

In the meantime, the food bank is calling on Congress to take several steps in its next stimulus package.

These include increasing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for the duration of the pandemic and economic recovery by 15%, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit to support families in need and cut child poverty in half, and one additional budgeting of $ 900 million for the Emergency Food Assistance Program.