Now that we are into the fifth month of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no doubt that the economic landscape has fundamentally changed across the nation. Pennsylvania unemployment hit a record high of 16.1% in April 2020, and is now at 13%, or 821,300 people, as of June 2020, states the latest update available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is nearly triple the rate pre-COVID-19.
With record unemployment, the number of people who are food insecure has also increased. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP (formally known as food stamps) grew 17% in the first three months of the pandemic, with more than 6 million new enrollments. SNAP enrollment has grown in 41 states, including Pennsylvania, among people from rural to suburban to urban areas, and is expected to rise even further.
I recently reached out to the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, which covers 27 counties from the northern to southern borders of Pennsylvania.
“The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank has seen food demand increase by more than 40 percent since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jennifer Sands, communications and marketing director at the food bank. “Since March, the food bank has distributed nearly 28 million pounds of food and more than 153,000 crisis response boxes full of healthy, shelf-stable food. The food bank is currently serving more than 175,000 individuals, including families, children, seniors and veterans. That is up from the 135,000 who relied on the food bank prior to March.”
Thankfully, food banks and the food pantries they serve across Pennsylvania and the nation are able to help support families in need during this crisis. Through trained volunteers, and community and agency partners, food and educational resources are available. However, many families, most of whom have never needed these services before, may be unaware of these resources and programs.
Feeding America, the largest food bank system in the U.S., is an excellent place to find the nearest regional food bank, and from there you can locate the nearest food pantry. The website online is https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/pennsylvania.
During a normal year, 1.4 million Pennsylvanians struggle with food insecurity, or 1 in 9, and 1 in 7 children. If the state rate mirrors central Pennsylvania increases due to COVID-19, then at least 1.96 million Pennsylvanians are currently food insecure. There is no judgment or shame in asking for help. These programs were all paid for by everyone’s tax dollars and donations to help anyone who needs it.
Penn State Extension has always had numerous programs to help families and communities improve their health and economic well-being. The Nutrition Links programs (https://extension.psu.edu/nutrition-links) offer nutrition and food resource management education to families with limited resources through the Expanded Food & Nutrition Education Program for families with children, as well as the SNAP-Ed program. Both offer highly impactful classes to enhance nutrition, increase physical activity and develop life skills needed for self-sufficiency and better health. Check their website for programs near you.
Penn State Extension also offers many new free and low-cost webinars, articles, online classes, downloadable fact sheets and videos on nutrition, health, food safety and many other topics. Check our website for more information at https://extension.psu.edu/.
Please share this information with anyone struggling with a job loss. We have trained hundreds of thousands of people while they are looking for work or waiting to be called back to work. Many of our classes can be taken for Act 48 credit for teachers, and continuing education credits for various professions. If you have a request for a new training topic in one of our program areas, please reach out to one of our Extension educators. Our contacts are listed on each team home page.
Until the COVID-19 pandemic is finally behind us, please utilize these food security resources and educational programs. We can all use help sometimes. Penn State Extension is mainly funded by county, state, and federal dollars, and we have been here for over 100 years to serve you.