SHREWSBURY, Mass. — At the cavernous warehouse of the Worcester County Food Bank on Tuesday, volunteers from pantries, soup kitchens, and other organizations were busy packing fresh vegetables, canned goods and frozen turkeys. Those donated items will ensure that thousands of Central Massachusetts individuals and families have a happy and filling Thanksgiving.
But after the holiday ends, the problem of hunger in Worcester County will remain. "Hunger is a year-round problem," said Jean McMurray, executive director of the Food Bank. "We're trying to make sure that people have food every day of the month, but certainly we want everyone to enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving."
McMurray said the Food Bank sees an uptick in donations and volunteers during this time of year, and she's grateful for that. "If people can help us during November, we're appreciative of that," she said. "But maybe people will think of us come April or August, because the need continues."
The Worcester County Food Bank is the leading anti-hunger organization that services 149 Central Massachusetts agencies, including shelters, food pantries, and other services.
McMurray said the Food Bank has distributed 5 million pounds of food this year. About 99,500 individuals were fed 450,000 meals, thanks to the Food Bank's efforts.
Since 2008, the Food Bank has seen a 20 percent increase in the number of people in need.
The economic squeeze has been keenly felt by organizations that depend on the Food Bank. Othello Dennis of Catholic Charities said 2012 "can't compare" to other years in terms of the amount of people needing food services.
To make things worse, 2012 year saw a 26 percent decrease in food donations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. McMurray said there hasn't been as much surplus food for the USDA to purchase for food banks.
"I've been with the Food Bank 17 years, and this is the first time we've ever seen a decrease like that," she said.
To fill the gap, the Food Bank looks to the state and an increase in private donations. "We have tremendous faith in the people of the Worcester County community," McMurray said. "When they know there's a need, they step in."
For every dollar they receive, they can distribute up to $5 worth of food. No gift is too small or too large," she said.