Food Insecurity In Mass. Continues At Peak-Pandemic Levels

Download Audio
The Greater Boston Food Bank in Boston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The Greater Boston Food Bank in Boston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

As we head into this Memorial Day weekend, there's a feeling of optimism in the air. More than half of Massachusetts is fully vaccinated and most pandemic restrictions are set to expire Saturday.

But despite this progress, many in Massachusetts are still suffering the pandemic’s fallout, including an enduringly high number of people struggling to put food on the table.

WBUR's Bob Oakes spoke with Arlene Fortunato, a senior vice president at the Greater Boston Food Bank to learn more.

Interview Highlights

Arlene Fortunato: In April 2021, we had our largest distribution month ever in the 40-year history of the Greater Boston Food Bank. So while the vaccine is certainly a sign of hope, it is not by any means a panacea. ...

Even though the economy is slowly inching back, we are looking at literally millions of families who've lost a year ... of income and normality. And so, even though they might start their jobs up again tomorrow, that doesn't mean that a year's worth of bills and piled up expenses aren't still staring them in the face.

Bob Oakes: The Greater Boston Food Bank, as we know, partners with more than 600 hunger relief agencies. So put some more numbers to this. Can you tell us how many meals you're putting out now within any given period of time?

Fortunato: So let's talk about April 2021 ... We distributed through our 600 partner agencies over 11 million pounds of food, and that equates to about 8.9 million meals. Before the pandemic we were seeing about 140,000 users each month coming through the pantry system. Today, that number remains at 600,000.

Oakes: Back at the beginning of the pandemic ... there was a lot of talk about how a lot of private citizens and a lot of businesses stepped up to help. Is that support still there?

Fortunata: We saw this tremendous outpouring of generosity and support from the community. And although that is beginning to taper off, we are still well ahead of where we were in 2019. ... But one of the things that's so important ... is that people continue to understand that even though there is a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus, there's no vaccine for hunger. And even before the pandemic, food insecurity was a crisis in this country and in Massachusetts .... And it's not going to change overnight, so we need to continue to stay focused on this very critical problem.

This segment aired on May 28, 2021.

Headshot of Bob Oakes

Bob Oakes Senior Correspondent
Bob Oakes was a senior correspondent in the WBUR newsroom, a role he took on in 2021 after nearly three decades hosting WBUR's Morning Edition.


Headshot of Wilder Fleming

Wilder Fleming Producer
Wilder Fleming produces radio and podcasts for WBUR.



More from WBUR

Listen Live