The people who man the Project Bread Food Source Hotline encounter the tough economy on a daily basis. Hotline counselors connect hungry Massachusetts residents with food. The hotline receives 49,000 calls a year. Although anonymous, some of the phone calls resonate with counselors long after they end.
Hunger and unemployment go hand in hand, according to Feeding America . Many of the counselors witnessed the how unemployment impacted Bay State families.
Three of the most memorable stories occurred outside the Boston city limits. All of stories shared the commonality of families unifying through a difficult time.
One Greenfield family struggled with feeding their two children, one counselor remembered. The mother lost her job of 10 years. The father’s work hours tapered. Their income no longer covered rent and utilities. They exhausted all of their savings. The family lived on the mom’s unemployment benefits, but it was coming to an end.
The couple called the hotline to learn more about programs to help them feed their children. They sought information about the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program for their 3 year old. And although they decided to apply for Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits they repeated their fear of being on it forever, the counselor said.
The counselor assured the family that SNAP could aid them temporarily and “that they could choose to close the case whenever they felt they did not need the extra assistance,” Project Bread Communications Associate Ellen Schweir said in an email with the counselor’s story.
The idea of accepting a handout scared an Ayer family of four as well. The parents lost their high-end jobs within six months of one another. They then used their unemployment benefits to keep the family afloat. The benefits expired. The family’s house was foreclosed.
“They moved in with the dad’s parents in a neighboring town and used their left over savings to buy food,” Schweir wrote of the counselor’s memory.
When the counselor suggested SNAP the family was hesitant. “They struggled with the idea of it being a ‘handout’ from the government,” Schweir said. Then, the counselor explained SNAP’s purpose of helping families buy healthy food, she said.
On Cape Cod, a mother and daughter attempted to maintain their expensive, yet nutritious diet. Unstable health caused the mother to move in with her daughter and granddaughter in Hyannis. The elderly woman’s medication cost ate most of her Social Security check, the counselor said. The daughter held a part-time job. They used credit cards to buy healthy food, the counselor recalled.
The counselor then suggested local food pantries and elderly agencies.
Although she does not work with the food hotline, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute Senior Advocate Pat Baker has similar stories. Baker assists food insecure households with legal issues.
The most chilling obstacle to her is expected Dec. 29. The Massachusetts Unemployment Insurance extension is expected to expire this day. Almost 45,000 households will be affected.
The wage and individual based program’s claimants may find themselves moving to SNAP for food and wage security, said Baker.
“That is a big sea change for people who may have been able to pay their rent and other expenses. They are now going to be income-less,” she said. “And all there will be is SNAP for many of them and maybe tiny bits of cash assistance with the cash benefits.”
In the mean time, both Baker and the Project Bread hotline continue to bridge the gap between hungry Commonwealth residents and food resource centers and programs.