The warm sunshine last Saturday didn’t deter bread buyers at the annual bake sale organized by the Vineyard Committee on Hunger — better to buy a loaf of homemade bread than heat up the house with a hot oven. There was oatmeal bread, all-grain bread, cranberry bread and even gluten-free cornbread for sale as the group put up tables outside the Bunch of Grapes bookstore in Vineyard Haven, hoping their collection jars and handouts on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) budget cuts might raise awareness of those who go to bed hungry at night, even on Martha’s Vineyard.
Betty Burton, president of the committee on hunger, said the sale usually raises several hundred dollars, which then stays in the community and benefits the programs here: the food pantry, the Serving Hands food surplus distribution and the Family to Family holiday dinner program. While the money raised helps, Ms. Burton said what is really needed is change in government policy. The issue of food insecurity and hunger is so vast and complex that philanthropy alone cannot “get the job done,” she said.
The committee on hunger is going to offer another showing of the documentary A Place at the Table at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center on August 21 at 7:30, p.m. and this time, Ms. Burton said, the focus will be on advocacy and education. A discussion group will follow, which will shed some light on the way policy impacts programs that help those who are experiencing food insecurity firsthand.
While it may be hard to fathom families who do not have enough to eat living in a resort location, they do exist. Ms. Burton said there were 190 households who qualified for the Family to Family holiday meals this year. “And that number keeps going up. It doesn’t come down,” she said.
Some of the people who are hurting on the Vineyard include seniors on fixed incomes and more and more often, folks in their 50s and 60s who still haven’t recovered from the economic turndown of a few years ago. They lost their jobs and are finding it difficult to find a new one, Ms. Burton explained, and more than likely their earnings will not be close to what they had been. These are some of the people served by the food pantry from October to April, by the food distribution once a month and the holiday meal program. “We all need a little help at one time or another,” Ms. Burton said.
The generosity of the Islanders is a reason for hope, she said. Soon it will be time for the gleaners to pick vegetables at local farms, Ms. Burton said, and the bounty will help feed the hungry in the community. Vineyarders are also willing to take the time to listen to the complexities of food insecurity as it relates to the Vineyard and beyond. That’s another reason for presenting the documentary in August, Ms. Burton said.
A Place at the Table was released in the spring in the U.S. The film takes a look at hunger and its implications in the U.S., where it says about one in six Americans — and one in four children — experience food insecurity. Ms. Burton explained a scenario involving food insecurity, or lack of nutritious food due to inaccessibility. Families living in poverty likely don’t have a reliable form of transportation or a decent grocery store that carries fresh produce in their neighborhood. “When working mothers live in the inner city — or in a rural area — and they have to bring babies and toddlers to the grocery store on a bus while carrying bags of groceries or pulling a cart with them, they are more likely to grab some nutrient-poor, super-processed food at the corner market instead,” she said. This, in turn, leads to diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure, not to mention teaching another generation that this is dinner.
The committee on hunger will continue to do what it has been doing since the first-timers passed out slices of bread under the Linden tree in Vineyard Haven more than 30 years ago. Ms. Burton said they will continue to find ways to feed the hungry and to change the way communities deal with hunger by advocating and educating.
A Place at the Table has a website with loads of information about food insecurity and government policy. Visit takepart.com/table or you can like A Place at the Table on Facebook and keep up with the latest information. The Vineyard Committee on Hunger welcomes donations year round for the programs it supports. Visit hungercommitte.org to donate.