Fundraising is underway to build a new hub for emergency food assistance in western Massachusetts.
Assisted by large donations from two of the region’s major employers, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts is more than half-way to its goal of raising $22 million to construct a new headquarters and distribution center in Chicopee.
Food Bank Executive Director Andrew Morehouse announced the milestone at the public launch of the fundraising campaign Monday at the Chicopee Falls Moose Lodge.
“We are encouraged and will continue to work hard to persuade others to join the cause so we can realize this vision and be the region’s clearing house for the distribution of emergency food to anyone and everyone who needs it at any given time,” Morehouse said.
Earlier this year, the Food Bank announced it planned to build a 64,000-square-foot warehouse and office space at the Chicopee River Business Park. It will be twice the size of the organization’s current building in Hatfield.
The move to Chicopee will also bring the Food Bank closer to where the greatest demand for assistance is, said Morehouse.
“Being closer to that population will enable us to move food much more efficiently,” Morehouse said. “We will uphold our commitment to all four counties ( of western Massachusetts) because there are individuals at risk of hunger and food insecurity in rural areas, suburban areas throughout all four counties.”
Donations of $1.5 million to the capital campaign were announced by both the Big Y supermarket chain and the MassMutual Foundation.
Big Y President and CEO Charles D’Amour noted the family-owned business started in Chicopee with a single grocery store in the 1930s. He said Big Y has a long history of supporting the Food Bank.
“We’ve got a wonderful opportunity to make a great step forward with a state-of-the-art facility that is closer to where the need is,” D’Amour said.
Dennis Duquette, President of the MassMutual Foundation, said he hopes the financial service giant’s donation will encourage others to give.
“The Food Bank represents a very important need in the community and is addressing that need in a very superlative way,” Duquette said.
The Food Bank supplies a network of more than 250 food pantries, meal sites, and direct-to-home deliveries.
The Moose Lodge in Chicopee is one of the Food Bank’s “brown bag sites.” Every Thursday about 100 people come to the lodge to take home a bag of groceries.
Last year, during the public health crisis, the number of people using the emergency food network in western Massachusetts increased by 17 percent.
Morehouse said there has been only a slight falloff in the need for assistance as people have started returning to work.
“In the last 12 months we are now seeing an average monthly number of people who receive food assistance at around 104,000, at its peak it was at 107,000,” Morehouse said.
The Food Bank plans to break ground on the new facility next year and move in during 2023.