The Right Thing

By Mickey Friedman
January 12, 2018

We’re beginning to hear yet another version of The Blame The Victim Song that seems to comfort so many who have pledged to dismantle the few programs that still provide care and offer some small degree of comfort to our people. They call these programs entitlements then oh so quickly suggest that recipients aren’t really entitled.

This is a column about hunger so let me talk about SNAP, the program many still refer to as food stamps. The story: there are so many who use and abuse SNAP. While you work your ass off to feed your family, these lazy folks, who of course don’t work, eat free steak.

In fact, more than 25% of recipients are elderly people or people with disabilities. Close to 70% of recipients are families with children. The average recipient received about $127 a month in 2015. Not a lot of steak.

As for government inefficiency, 93% of the $75 billion spent in 2015 went directly to hungry people, and the rest spent on administration including an anti-fraud program.

Then there’s WIC which serves infants and kids up to 5 and low-income pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women. Participants receive vouchers to buy nutritious food.

There’s a bizarre notion that the poor have it easy. Do you know that the current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour? And that the official 2017 U.S. poverty level for a family of 4 is $24,600.

The government calls hunger “food insecurity” and as of 2015 one of every eight households experienced food insecurity, close to sixteen million households.

Now let me tell you about our rag-tag group. Under the banner of Berkshires Bounty, Mel Greenberg and his friend Phyllis have been gathering and distributing donated food for sixteen years. I was recruited several years ago by my downstairs neighbor, Jurek. Mel recruited Mark who recruited Billy.

For most of you, re-stocking the pantry and refrigerator is but a recurring necessity not worthy of too much thought.

But there are others for whom shopping is always problematic. And many of those who can’t shop without worry, don’t often share with others the vigilance with which they watch what every item costs.

These are the people we think about each week as we gather food. For many, a free loaf of bread, a bagel, a can of tuna, some lettuce and tomatoes and broccoli and potatoes and onions, a donut make a world of difference.

So every Thursday we head to the Big Y, then to Guido’s, where their contributions are added to food donated by The Marketplace and Mazzeo’s Meat and Seafood, then onto Great Barrington Bagel, The Donut Shoppe, the Berkshire Co-op Market. Mel, of course, has already picked up contributions from Hilltown Pork and collected donated food from other local places.

We drive Mel’s pickup to The People’s Pantry at St. James. A bit later Mel will deliver to the WIC program at CHP, to the Senior Center, the Railroad Street Youth Project, and to Construct, the local organization that helps the homeless and financially strapped.

Mel and Phyllis are inspirations. None of us are spring chickens. But Mel is a force of nature and we have to restrain him from lifting too much because he’s been lifting for decades and tends to ignore the fact his body has a bit more wear and tear than the rest of us. And yet he never stops.

Year after year, Berkshires Bounty continues to do the right thing for the hungry amongst us. Supporting The Breaking Bread Kitchen meal held at the American Legion Hall in Sheffield every Thursday night. Providing funds for home heating or diapers for infant participants of the Children’s Health Program (CHIP) at CHP.

Meanwhile, the Republican majority has provided a massive tax cut to the rich: continuing the redistribution of wealth from the working and middle classes to the richest amongst us. In the process, they eliminated the individual mandate of Obamacare and delayed the full re-allocation of funds to CHIP.

Then, according to the U.S. Federal Reserve’s 2016 data, there’s the story beneath the story: “the bottom 10 percent owns -0.5 percent of the wealth in the country (they are net debtors), while the top 10 percent owns 77.1 percent of the wealth.”

This translates into significant hunger. Nearly 12 percent of the 15,330 residents of Berkshire County don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

And according to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, 1 in 5 children in Western Massachusetts face food insecurity while 1 in 3 Berkshire County children lack consistent access to nutritious food.

Here at home Mel & friends do what we can. Please help. Send your donations to: Berkshires Bounty, 248 East Road, Alford, MA 01266. If you have questions, you can call Mel at 413-528-4201 or email him at greenberg.mel@gmail.com

It’s the right thing.

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“The Right Thing” was first published in the January 4, 2018 issue of The Berkshire Record.

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