Food banks across state join forces to fight hunger

By:  Denise Allabaugh

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and state Sen. John Yudichak joined representatives from nine Pennsylvania food banks Tuesday to launch a nonprofit organization to fight hunger.

The organization, "Feeding Pennsylvania," is a consortium of food banks throughout the state. Its goal is to help them secure food and other resources as families struggle to put meals on the table.

"This is a network of sharing," said Gene Brady, vice chairman of the Feeding Pennsylvania board and executive director of the H&J Weinberg Northeast Regional Food Bank based in Wilkes-Barre.

"If someone gets a donation in Philadelphia or Erie, they can send it on the interstate and it can arrive here and help people in Northeastern Pennsylvania and vice versa," he said. "We think this is a better way to coordinate and work together as a network."

Food banks rely mainly on private donations, but receive some help from government agencies, primarily the Department of Agriculture, Brady said. Government funding has been reduced at times, including sequestration cuts, as the demand has increased, he said.

Casey said he was recently asked to vote on an amendment to cut the food stamps program, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, by $31 billion. The Senate rejected the amendment, proposed by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas.

"We shouldn't have votes that call for cuts like that," Casey said. "Every program could deliver better results, but anyone who knows anything about the SNAP program knows that the fraud number has gone way down."

Casey, who serves as co-chairman of the Senate Hunger Caucus, said through the work of Feeding Pennsylvania, food banks will help call public attention to the issue of hunger.

"We can't just allow or tolerate millions of people in this country who are hungry to go hungry," Casey said. "We are summoned by our conscience to do something, to take action. When we come together to take action, we need every possible partner that we can bring together."

More than 1.85 million people in Pennsylvania, one out of every six, are at risk of hunger and may not know where their next meal is coming from, said Caryn Long, executive director of Feeding Pennsylvania. This includes more than 555,000 children, one out of every five, she said.

Food banks in Feeding Pennsylvania serve more than 2 million people annually by distributing more than 110 million pounds of food to more than 2,300 agencies.

As the need continues to remain at record levels as a result of the recession, so does the demand for food assistance from our food banks, Long said. By bringing food banks together in a collaborative environment, she said it will help representatives exchange ideas and discuss strategies to address hunger in Pennsylvania.