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The Greater Boston Food Bank is weathering a perfect storm of crises, but hope is in sight

"It really is a matter, for some people, of life and death."

The Greater Boston Food Bank CEO Catherine D'Amato. Jonathan Wiggs / The Boston Globe, File

The conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic and recent rates of inflation are causing an “intersection of incredible headwinds” when it comes to food insecurity, says Catherine D’Amato, CEO of the Greater Boston Food Bank.

Combined with supply chain disruptions and an agriculture industry impacted by climate change, a perfect storm, of sorts, has been created for people battling food insecurity, and the numbers reflect that.

GBFB found that in 2021, 1 in 3 adults in Massachusetts experienced food insecurity.

That statistic comes from a study GBFB conducted for their second annual report on food insecurity, equity, and access in Massachusetts. The organization also found that food insecurity rates were highest among Latinx adults, Black adults, LGBTQ+ adults, and adults with children.

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In an interview with Boston.com, D’Amato called the rate “remarkable.”

The CEO said the survey was shocking because while an increase in food insecurity due to the pandemic was expected, the sustained levels were not anticipated.

“[I] thought we would see a decline, that things would start to level out as people went back to work,” she said. “That hasn’t happened.”

GBFB serves 190 cities and towns across Eastern Massachusetts, supplying about 600 local organizations — food pantries, community meal programs, shelters, daycares — with a variety of food items.

“Think of us as a supplier to nonprofit organizations on the front lines,” D’Amato said.

According to nonprofit’s report, from 2020 to 2021, Massachusetts saw enrollment in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) among food insecure adults increase from 46 to 55 percent. Food pantry use increased from 32 percent in 2020 to 46 percent in 2021 among the same group.

Even though GBFB is doubly challenged by inflation — it makes the need greater and the costs of meeting that demand higher — and the ongoing other factors, D’Amato said they remain committed to their mission.

The historic level of food insecurity coincides with the White House’s Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health, which is being held for the first time since 1969, in September. The mission of the conference, half a century after the first and only other one, is to “end hunger and increase healthy eating and physical activity by 2030.”

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D’Amato is serving on a national task force that is working to inform the goals of the White House Conference. She said the task force will publish a report with recommendations that should be released in early August.

“The hope … is that the recommendations that are going to come through that conference will be meaningful and helpful to inform how to assist people dealing with food insecurity,” D’Amato said. 

As part of the conference, the Biden administration is having each cabinet member think of actions they can take in their area (whether it be transportation, housing, veterans, labor, et cetera) to advance food security. 

“No matter what, it’s going to be a positive outcome, and I believe that the input that I’ve seen from across the country has been fascinating,” D’Amato said. “I’m pleased that it’s happening in my time and that we can have an effect and create some change at the federal level, which is like molasses — very slow.” 

Despite what may happen at the national level, D’Amato said food security needs to remain a major part of the public health platform in Massachusetts.

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“We need people to stand together and support food programs at their local food bank or their local pantry, and to advocate for programs both at the state and federal levels,” D’Amato said. “It really is a matter, for some people, of life and death.”

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