Virtual program

Schwank Hosts Virtual Program to Fight Food Insecurity | Regional News from Berks

MUHLENBERG TWP., Pennsylvania – The COVID-19 pandemic has had many negative impacts on communities across the country, but one of the positive outcomes has been shining a light on people with basic needs.

One of those needs is to put food on the table to feed their families, which is the struggle a growing number of people in Berks County have faced during the pandemic.

In an effort to show how the community has responded to the need, State Senator Judy Schwank hosted a virtual roundtable with a panel of experts who spoke about ways to fight hunger.

“The coronavirus has made us all the more aware of the prevalence of food insecurity here in Berks County,” said Schwank, a Democrat. “Not to be hungry is a human right. Go back to President Franklin Roosevelt – when they were talking about a bill of human rights – that was one of the concepts they were talking about, but even today we are still facing these issues that we couldn’t fix. “

“When a loaf of bread is practically $ 5 and your hourly wage isn’t much more than that,” Schwank continued, “it’s hard to feed a family.”

According to Feed America, which is a network of over 200 food banks across the country, nearly 10% of Berks County’s population, or 40,000, face food insecurity issues.

Gisele Fetterman, Second Lady of Pennsylvania and Co-Founder of 412 Food rescue in Pittsburgh, said his family came to the United States as immigrants and had to dive in garbage cans for a while for food.

“For me, it was a shock to see perfectly good food thrown in,” said Fetterman. “Five states have laws to prevent food waste, but Pennsylvania is not one of them. So many people are still throwing food away, and this is something we have the power to fix.”

Schwank confirmed that Pennsylvania has no laws to combat food waste.

“This is definitely something that should be addressed,” she said.

Russell Redding, Secretary of State for Agriculture, also participated in the panel.

“For many of us we have been inconvenienced [by the pandemic]but when you’re embarrassed every day it’s food insecure, “Redding said.” While we were stressed, we saw too many food insecure people. “

Redding said two million Pennsylvanians have faced hunger-related issues in the past year.

“We expect that number will be maintained,” said Redding, “because we know this pandemic is going to persist.”

Brian Whorl, the state’s human services program specialist supervisor, said one of the problems with the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, is the stigma associated with receiving benefits.

“It’s not a negative program,” Whorl said of SNAP. “He’s here to help people get nutritious, healthy food on people’s plates. With COVID at the forefront, we’ve made some definite improvements to SNAP so we can get as many people as possible the help they had. need.”

Jay Worrall, President of Help with the harvest, said from March 2020 to February 2021, the Spring Township Food Bank distributed 11.2 million pounds of food, almost double the previous year.

“Over the year we have found resources to help us buy new trucks and hire new employees,” said Worrall, “but our greatest need is food.”

He also said that donations from retail streams declined because more food was being consumed in grocery stores.

Additionally, more people are being served because many had previously not accepted food from any charitable food system out of pride or shame, he noted.

“But there was so much emphasis on food insecurity that it reduced the shame of getting food from a charitable food network,” Worrall said. “We need to prepare for higher volumes and will need to determine where the resources are.”

Sandra Wise, Executive Director of Ami Community Services Inc. in Kutztown, said its pantry has seen a 40% increase in the number of people it serves.

“It’s interesting to see and sad to see that so many people need help,” Wise said.

Reverend Mary Wolfe, Pastor of Hope Evangelical Lutheran Church in Reading, said his church will soon open on Cafe Esperanza, a restaurant that allows people to pay what they can afford.

“We decided we had to break down the barriers between who can enjoy a meal and pay for it with those who can’t,” Wolfe said. “We wanted to open a restaurant that will attract people from all walks of life so that they can get to know people from different economic backgrounds.”

“Some people really don’t know what to do,” she added. “Many have to rely on sources they didn’t even know existed.”

Schwank called on the panel members of the heroes who make sure people don’t go hungry.

“You all said this is our new normal and that is what we can anticipate, that there will be higher demand,” she said.

Schwank urged people to donate to food banks and other food programs.

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