The State House in Boston
Learning, empowerment and prayerContents: Why we went; A rich experience; First food victory; Food and Jobs: Mass. Food Trust; The opening of the photo exhibit; Poverty in Massachusetts; Circle of prayer
This exhibit of 30-photos shows the volunteers and guests of the meals program and food pantry of South Congregational Church in Pittsfield. “For people in Boston to see that we have hunger in the Berkshires will help them see it’s everywhere,” Rev. Joel Huntington, pastor of South Congregational and a BIO leader, told the Berkshire Eagle.
The others were from Adams and points south in Berkshire County. Many were clergy and lay leaders of BIO. Others, like me, were delegates to BIO and participants in its food insecurity task force.
We walk down Beacon Street to the Congregational Building, where the MPHA offices are located.
A rich experience
First food victoryAnother reason we went to Boston was to offer thanks for the $2 million increase in funding in the budget for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Program (MEFAP). The two legislators we interacted with were Pignatelli and State Sen. Ben Downing, D-Pittsfield, who spoke at the opening and gave us a tour of the Senate chambers. (We had group photos taken in both legislative chambers).
Food and Jobs: Mass. Food Trust
Andrea Freeman, field director, and Rebekah Gewirtz, executive director, of the Massachusetts Public Health Association
We have the opportunity here in Berkshire/Northern Berkshire, as I and others see it, for a mobile food pantry, a centralized food hub capable of storing food, and possibly even a new farm providing employment.
A chief advocate for the Massachusetts Food Trust is the Massachusetts Public HealthAssociation (MPHA), which served as home base for us during our visit. It is located on the seventh floor of a building on Beacon Street within sight of the State House. They were great hosts.
Their goal is to get $10 million in seed funding for the Mass. Food Trust. For the 2016 fiscal year, MPHA seeks $2.5 million in the state budget. They are also seeking the release of the $2 million in bond funds dedicated to the Food Trust.
I am hoping that BIO will be conducting more trips to Boston for some hands-on lobbying. It is an empowering experience.
The opening of the photo exhibit
The Rev. Joel Huntington at the State House
“Jesus once said, ‘The poor you will have with you always, and people often just stop there. And say, ‘Okay, therefore, there’s nothing we can do, nothing we need to do, it’s a form resignation or even justification…
“But Jesus knew by heart the rest of the quote. He was quoting the book of Deuteronomy; the Hebrew Bible was his Bible. The rest of the quote is: ‘The poor you will have with you always, therefore open your hands to the poor, open your hearts to the poor, open your eyes to the poor, not just for their sake but for your own sake so that we can all be whole.” That’s what Jesus knew and that’s what he wanted and that’s what we’re supposed to embody in our faith.”
To the question of how do we do that, he told the story of Gretchen DeBartolo who worked next door to the church for years and recently started volunteering for its meals program. She found her involvement very rewarding and spoke to DeCandia about doing a photo project.
Paula Morey, of Pittsfield, who is a member of the BIO food insecurity team and is a first cousin of mine, spoke about the work of BIO, including the success in raising MEFAP funding.
“Our next priority is to support funding for the Massachusetts Food Trust,” she said. “We believe that if it’s funded appropriately, it will create opportunities for good jobs, increase access to healthy food and revitalization of our communities.”
Downing said the exhibit was a way to educate other legislators of poverty and need in Berkshire County. “Thank you for the work that you all are doing,” he said to the Berkshire visitors, “the advocacy work that you are doing, the service work that you all are doing. Thank you for the examples you provide in our communities.
Sen. Ben Downing shows us the Senate Chamber, which we learned is under the golden dome of the State House. Below, Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli shows us the Massachusetts House Chamber, while we sit at the wooden desks of representatives.
Poverty in MassachusettsState Auditor Suzanne Bump, who is from Great Barrington, also addressed us and made a point I had not before considered. First, she spoke of the moral imperative to serve the poor among us, and I found charming her story that she knew her future husband was right for her because he was actively involved in serving the poor when she met him.
Circle of prayerWe ended our visit with lunches we brought sitting on Boston Common within view of the State House. We each shared what we got from our visit. My main conclusion is that while democracy may be endangered at the national level, it is still alive in Massachusetts and the visit was very empowering. Another member of our group illustrated with food on hand how little one can buy for a family on $25 of SNAP (food stamp) benefits.
Our place on the Common before leaving Boston.