“We are serving more people today than we ever have, and it’s just, instead of getting better – I had hoped by the time I retired, that we wouldn’t need food banks.”
May is Community Action Month, and Community Action Agencies in Massachusetts are raising awareness about the wraparound services they provide to low-income residents.
Community Action was started in 1964 by the Johnson administration to fight poverty, and agencies have been working ever since to help folks – both in crisis situations and with economic empowerment.
Sharon Scott-Chandler, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD), said many still are struggling to meet basic needs in the economic fallout from the pandemic.
“Community action is here, meeting as many of those needs as we can,” she said. “Obviously, the demand is outsized to what the resources we have, but we continue to advocate for more funding and continue to really come up with flexible, innovative programs that can meet the evolving needs of folks.”
Scott-Chandler noted that most funding for Community Action Agencies comes from the federal government; the U.S. House recently approved a 10-year reauthorization of the Community Services Block Grant, and it’s now on to the U.S. Senate. The Massachusetts House also included $7.5 million in the state budget for Community Action Agencies. The state Senate’s version does not, but the agencies hope it will be retained in conference committee.
In a crisis, Community Action Agencies provide services such as rent relief, fuel assistance, child care and food security.
“We are serving more people today than we ever have, and it’s just, instead of getting better – I had hoped by the time I retired, that we wouldn’t need food banks,” said Emma Melo, who runs the food program at People Acting in Community Endeavors (PACE) in New Bedford. The PACE Food Bank serves more than 6,000 people every year.
“With COVID, with everything else, it just doesn’t work,” she said.
Jenniffer Gonzalez, assistant director at Springfield Partners for Community Action’s Early Learning Center, also has been a client of the agency. She said agencies don’t just help clients with one need – they work to assist them in gaining longer-term economic stability.
“They had helped me to pay my bill, like fuel assistance, helped me through the COVID times. And it’s not just as a professional working here – but as personal, a mother,” she said. “And I have a house because of Springfield Partners, so I think it’s just amazing to have an agency that helps a community like that.”
Massachusetts residents who think they may be eligible for some of these programs can look online at masscap.org to find their local agency and make an appointment.