BOSTON – Today State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D – Pittsfield) was named the 2016 Public Advocate of the Year by the Food Bank Coalition of Massachusetts for his successful efforts to increase state funding for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP).
Senator Downing is presented the Public Advocate of the Year Award from Andrew Morehouse (left) of the Western Mass Food Bank and Catherine D’Amato (right) of the Greater Boston Food Bank
“In the legislature, we deal with many complex and arcane issues. This is not one of them,” said Downing. “We know this program returns dividends in the form of nearly 20 million healthy meals for needy families. As proud as I am to advocate for this program each year, I look forward to the day when we can celebrate that it is no longer necessary.”
MEFAP is a state program that provides meals to needy families through the four regional food banks and their network of 842 local providers. The funding provided through this line item helps these local and regional entities leverage additional federal, private, and nonprofit dollars to feed hundreds of thousands of residents throughout the Commonwealth.
An amendment filed by Senator Downing to the FY16 budget increased MEFAP funding from $15m to $17m last year. This year, the Food Bank Coalition is advocating for an increase to $20m – enough to provide 23 million free, nutritious meals to families in need.
According to the Food Bank Coalition, statewide,more than 12% of Massachusetts residents are “food insecure”, meaning they regularly face uncertainty as to where their next meal will come from. In Western Massachusetts, that number is as high as 1 in 5. More than one third of those characterized as food insecure are children.
MEFAP partners with local farms and manufacturers, and stretches every dollar to provide millions healthy, locally sourced meals each year. Last year, the Mass Food Bank of Western Mass alone distributed 2.8 million MEFAP meals, and leveraged 6 million meals from other sources. An increase in MEFAP to $20m would allow them to distribute an additional 425,000 next year, according to the Food Bank.