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Malden-based task force delivers detailed report on community’s food status

food insecurity
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Culmination of two-plus years of research endorsed by Malden City Council

  The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped how we all look at food supplies and consumption, and a Malden-based task force has been working on a report for the past two years in a push to guide policy-making for the future. The Malden Community Food Assessment Team at Tuesday night’s Malden City Council meeting delivered a detailed report which was the culmination of just over two years of research into Malden’s food status. Specifically, the research addressed food security in this community, with the report including references dating back to 2019 and right through the height of the pandemic in 2020 to the first half of this year, 2021.

  According to the national group Feeding America; food insecurity is defined as a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life. Further, the insecurity also involves the lack of access to food that is both accessible and nutritious.

  Malden Community Food Assessment Team member Renee Cammarata Hamilton told the City Council that a series of surveys around the community, where Malden residents participated, revealed a lot to the members who conducted them. The research began in 2019 with a pledge to gather enough appropriate data to enable the task force to produce a quality report. Little did the team members know the storm that was brewing three months into 2020 in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been widely acknowledged that the pandemic has exposed and/or exacerbated existing food insecurity and a lack of food equity in Malden and around the region.

  Hamilton, who is an employee of Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) and helps coordinate the CHA Community Health Improvement Team, said the report and its results “raise awareness of the food system” while enabling them to “work toward creating a plan of action.” Hamilton said a total 55 retail stores that sell food were surveyed on a variety of topics, and additionally, some 373 Malden residents were surveyed.

  Some of the findings included that just over half of the 373 residents surveyed get their groceries from supermarkets. Additionally, one-in-four responded that either once in a while or frequently they receive food from providers such as Bread of Life and other sources. The most telling statistic described on Tuesday was “half of those surveyed said they have experienced food insecurity within the past two years.”

  Malden residents’ responses as to having experienced food insecurity line up almost identically to the statewide numbers in a survey conducted by MassINC that circulated through the schools – completed by parents, school employees and students. The MassINC survey is one of several recent studies showing that hunger, a prevalent force in some Massachusetts communities during the early months of pandemic lockdowns, remains an issue even as COVID-19 case counts fall, and that people who need help with food insecurity often struggle to get assistance.

  At Tuesday’s meeting, the members of the Malden Community Food Assessment Team had one major request for the Councillors: Please endorse our report. Their whole intent of compiling the report was to establish a baseline that would, preferably, be used to plot a course of future action. After a few comments, the City Council did vote unanimously to formally endorse the team’s report.

  “Access to fresh food is a continuing issue in Malden. The establishment of community refrigerators has helped our residents to lessen food insecurity,” said Ward 1 Councillor Peg Crowe. “We should consider making [community fridges] part of the infrastructure of our community.”

  “It’s a lot of work and a lot of detail,” Councillor-at-Large Craig Spadafora said. “It’s easy to see that it’s cheaper to buy Oreos and crackers as opposed to more nutritious foods – we know that.”

  “It’s great work; we have to keep building on it,” Councillor Spadafora added.

  Ward 5 Councillor Barbara Murphy also praised the work done by the group: “They have done a great job on this report.” The Councillor added that “a lot of good work is being done by the residents who have been working on the Community Gardens. They have had some great crops through the summer into fall and have been able to give a lot of fresh vegetables to the Bread of Life for distribution.”

renee cammarata hamilkton
Renee Cammarata Hamilton was a spokesperson for the Malden Community Food Assessment Team and delivered a detailed report at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting. (Courtesy Photo)

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