The Berkshire Eagle  reports with the help of new funding, research and some new initiatives, Northern Berkshire food security and access advocates are expanding their combat against hunger.

"People are hungry all year," said Berkshire Food Project Executive Director Kim McMann. It's a constant refrain that she and other food access advocates use in their line of work.

Berkshire Food Project serves afternoon meals every weekday at the First Congregational Church on Main Street.

In the organizations' end-of-the-year appeal letters, both Berkshire Food Project and the Al Nelson Friendship Center Food Pantry describe to donors an increasing demand for food, as well as other essentials and services.

McMann and her board members write: "The surge in diners has surprised and, frankly, challenged us. We always serve more people late in the month, but we have never seen anything like this.

The Friendship Center Board of Directors states in its appeal: "With the economy slowing a bit and the possibility of more restrictive rules for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (Food Stamps) soon going into effect — we fear the number of people in need in our community may increase significantly."

The center, located on Eagle Street, already gathers and distributes some 5,000 pounds of food to area residents each week, with support from the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and various donations from individuals, businesses and networks in the Berkshires.

Amanda Chilson, Mass in Motion project coordinator for Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, said new research also shed a light on the link between nutrition and mental health.

Chilson said Northern Berkshire Food Access Collaborative, which has some 200 stakeholders on its email list, is looking to prioritize how to address needs driving hunger in the region. That means bringing a range of folks to the table to get on the same page, from farmers to dietitians, landlords to bus drivers.