'Hunger Action Month' observed during September with concerning numbers

Nonprofit pushes donations, volunteerism as food crisis deepens

Toni Caushi | MetroWest Daily News

FRAMINGHAM — September was established in 2008 as "Hunger Action Month" by Feeding America, the nation's largest domestic hunger-relief organization. And for Paul Mina, executive director of the United Way of Tri-County, this year it couldn't come soon enough.

He said this year the number of people going hungry continues to rise, due to the financial detriments caused by COVID-19. 

"People right around us are food insecure,” he said, “and their number has increased dramatically, especially over the last 18 months.” 

The United Way runs three food pantries and two hot meal programs. Its largest, Pearl Street Cupboard and Café on Park Street in Framingham, hands out 3 million pounds of food annually, according to Mina.  

Richard Stokes, of the Pearl Street Cupboard and Cafe, brings food to a family in this March 2020 file photo. At the start of the pandemic, the pantry was providing 65,000 pounds of food each day.
In addition, United Way fundraising drives support holiday meals for nearly 3,000 families in the 495/MetroWest corridor. The organization offers a turkey to families before Thanksgiving and Christmas, he said. 

But as the pandemic depletes work hours, the future looks grim, Mina said.

“(People are) not working the same hours, so at the end of the month they come here,” he said, “and their numbers are not going down.” 

To raise awareness, this month the organization encourages people to volunteer, donate or run in the United Way's sponsored 5ks, said Sandra Baldi, the organization’s special events manager.  

The Jack’s Abby United Way 5K, scheduled for Oct. 16, will register up to 700 participants. Entry fees go to either the United Way’s program to feed the hungry or to either of its other two areas of focus: early literacy and suicide prevention.

Besides Pearl Street, the United Way of Tri-County also runs a soup kitchen in Clinton and a food pantry in Marlborough. Mina said these locations ensure the United Way remains deeply involved with food security throughout the 495/MetroWest region. 

Baldi added that volunteers are always welcome.

“Nothing happens without volunteers,” she said, adding that every form of support matters for the organization. “It's very expensive to run a food program, and we have three of them.”