Harrisburg, PA (STL.News) First Lady Frances Wolf, Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller, Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding, and Feeding Pennsylvania Executive Director Jane Clements-Smith today commended Pennsylvania’s charitable food network for its heroic effort to help Pennsylvanians keep food on the table in the year since COVID-19 was first identified in Pennsylvania. They also reminded Pennsylvanians that help continues to be available and urged anyone needing assistance to remember that there are food assistance programs and resources available.
“Hunger is a systemic issue, one that will take all of us, working together, to solve,” said First Lady Frances Wolf. “As I reflect on the stories we’ve heard from food bank staff, volunteers, National Guard Members, food delivery personnel, farmers, school nutrition staff, and everyone else involved in keeping Pennsylvania fed over this past year, I am more inspired than ever before in our ability to tackle this issue.”
Inadequate food and chronic nutrient deficiencies have profound effects on a person’s life and health, including increased risks for chronic diseases, higher chances of hospitalization, poorer overall health, and increased health care costs. As the nation continues to experience the COVID-19 pandemic, access to essential needs like food is more important than ever to help keep vulnerable populations healthy and mitigate co-occurring health risks.
Pennsylvania’s charitable food network mobilized quickly to help communities following spikes in unemployment, reduced income, and need at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Pennsylvania. Since March 2020, Pennsylvania’s food banks have provided more than 251 million pounds of food. Food banks and the dedicated volunteers who have staffed their distribution operations have served an average of 551,000 people around the commonwealth each week. These networks provide fresh, healthy produce, dairy products, proteins, and shelf-stable products to help individuals and families in their communities meet this essential need.
“Pennsylvania’s charitable food network mobilized immediately to meet their communities’ needs so people affected by job or income loss would not have to go hungry, and I am incredibly grateful for their unending commitment to communities they serve,” said Secretary Miller. “These support networks and programs exist to help all of us in the moments we cannot plan for. Even as life begins to gradually look more normal, there is still a great need. I urge anyone who knows someone who is struggling to make ends meet or needs assistance themselves to remember that help is always available.”
”COVID-19 changed everything – when we look back on 2020, it was a year unlike any other. But what didn’t change, was our need to eat,” said Redding. “When thousands found themselves newly food insecure, Pennsylvania’s charitable food system stepped up. The system did what it was designed to do: alleviated questions of paying for utilities or food. Thank you to the food banks and pantries, leaders and volunteers, and every person who donated a dollar or a can of food; you kept Pennsylvania fed and led us to where we are today with hopes for a brighter future.”
Beyond, assistance available through charitable food networks, there are several state programs that still require individuals to seek out and enroll in individually to qualify and receive benefit. These programs include:
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Formerly known as food stamps, SNAP provides assistance to low-income and working Pennsylvanians, allowing them to purchase produce and groceries for themselves and their family. SNAP helps more than 1.8 million Pennsylvanians, including about 700,000 children, about 690,000 people with disabilities, and about 300,000 older adults, expand purchasing power to ensure their household has enough food to avoid going hungry. SNAP is issued through a monthly payment to an electronic benefit transfer card, and benefits are based off income and household size. People can apply for SNAP online at www.compass.state.pa.us online at any time or by phone at 1-866-550-4355.
Those who prefer to submit a paper application can print from the website, pick one up at a County Assistance Office (CAO), or request an application by phone at 1-800-692-7462 and mail it to their local CAO or place it in a CAO’s secure drop box, if available. You do not need to know your own eligibility in order to apply.
Women who are pregnant or have had a baby in the past six months, or twelve if breastfeeding; infants and children under the age of five; and fathers, grandparents, and foster parents who are the legal guardian of a child under age five, may apply for WIC. WIC applicants must reside in Pennsylvania, have a medical or nutritional risk, and have a gross household income that does not exceed 185% of the U.S. poverty level.
Commodity Supplemental Food Program: Eligible participants include individuals who are at least 60 years old and whose household income is at or below 130% of the U.S. poverty level. To qualify, individuals must complete an application with proof of income. Questions about where/how to access this program can be directed to the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Food Assistance by calling 1-800-468-2433 or emailing [email protected]
WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program: This program runs from June 1 through November 30 each year, and recipients must be on the WIC program to receive this benefit. Children 6-months and older, and pregnant/post-partum women will receive vouchers for the program during their quarterly WIC visit (May through September).
Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program: This program runs from June 1 through November 30 each year. Seniors must be 60 or older by December 31 of the program year and have income at or below 185% of the U.S. poverty level. Eligible seniors should call their county Aging office closer to the date of the program start for information on distribution of vouchers. Vouchers are distributed on a first come, first serve basis.
“Feeding Pennsylvania’s member food banks have worked overtime to serve the needs of those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the needs of the nearly 2 million Pennsylvanians facing hunger every day,” said Feeding Pennsylvania Executive Director Jane Clements-Smith. “Our member food banks had to adapt quickly to implement new policies and practices to protect the individuals we serve, the volunteers who help us achieve our mission, and the employees who work tirelessly every day to fight hunger and provide healthy, nourishing meals to vulnerable Pennsylvanians in need. Our efforts would not have been possible without our member food banks, partners, donors, and supporters. We express our sincerest gratitude to Governor Wolf and the Governor’s Food Security partnership for their support throughout this unprecedented year.”
Anyone interested in volunteering can find organizations in need of volunteer support on the United Way of Pennsylvania’s 211 website.
For more information about food assistance resources for people around Pennsylvania impacted by COVID-19 and the accompanying economic insecurity, visit the Department of Agriculture’s food security guide.