Great Barrington — The simple fact that one out of four people in Berkshire County suffers food insecurity is a stark reality. Defined as the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food, the topic of food insecurity is slowly but surely making its way into the local conversation, especially as the growing season takes root across much of the county this month.
In a timely turn of events, two of Berkshire County’s leading nonprofits dedicated to feeding the hungry have merged: Mel Greenberg, founder of Berkshires Bounty, and Mark Lefenfeld and Jay Weintraub, founders of Backyard Bounty of the Berkshires, announced last week the formation of Berkshire-Bounty—a strategic move aimed at maximizing efforts to collect and distribute excess fresh produce, meat, fish and bread to those in need throughout South County and Pittsfield. This joining of forces has resulted in the single largest Berkshires-based organization providing food to those in need.
“Combining forces makes a lot of sense” according to Lefenfeld and Weintraub, who started Backyard Bounty of the Berkshires in 2015. Their focus, collecting and distributing excess produce in South County and Pittsfield, yielded a whopping 33,048 pounds of local food last season alone. Comparatively speaking, the pair are but neophytes. Mel Greenberg and Phyllis Weiss have spent more than two decades collecting and distributing food to those in need. “For the people we serve, it may make the difference between going to bed hungry and having food in the house,” said Greenberg of Berkshires Bounty. “It lets them know they are not alone, that there are people who understand and are willing to help,” he added. Most of the provisions, donated from local organizations, allowed for the pair to organize a Thursday evening community meal program at the American Legion Hall in Sheffield. “That makes a huge difference for people,” said Greenberg of his efforts. “For me, personally, it makes me feel good to know I’m actually making a difference in people’s lives.”
Weintraub described the complementary nature of the two organizations: “Backyard Bounty has been delivering food to many of the same organizations in South County and Pittsfield as Berkshires Bounty,” he explained. The new organization, to be led by Lefenfeld and Weintraub, soon expects to be collecting and distributing fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and baked goods to those in need at the rate of 100,000 pounds per year. Growth will be enhanced by the recent purchase of a van to aid in pickups and deliveries. Organizationally, the Backyard Bounty of the Berkshires advisory board—made up of individuals who have great experience with food insecurity issues—will remain in place, providing continuing guidance to the larger team. And Greenberg, whose selfless spirit and deep generosity was the genesis of this important work, has stepped away from day-to-day operations due to his advancing age.
“Our mission remains unchanged,” said Lefenfeld, who is poised to keep the organization moving forward by gathering and distributing quality food to those who are hungry or at risk of being hungry. The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts feeds 235,000 people each year and 1 in 5 individuals facing food insecurity is a child. “We’ve been successful beyond our initial expectations, largely due to the generosity of local supermarkets, property owners with fruit trees on their properties and farms, as well as distribution organizations,” said Lefenfeld and Weintraub. “We’re grateful for contributions from many individuals and grants from the Berkshire Taconic Foundation, the Jewish Women’s Foundation and Berkshire Agricultural Ventures,” they added.
The revised website provides more information about Berkshire-Bounty’s mission, participating food donors, participating food distributing organizations and volunteer opportunities, the latter constituting one of the more novel aspects of the organization. Individual volunteers are invited to attend local gleans of fruit trees and to participate in pick ups/deliveries. After all, many hands make for light work, which, when it comes to tackling an issue as important as food insecurity, sounds as appetizing as it is practical.