With the holidays approaching, it’s important to remember those who may not have continual access to food. That’s why the United Nations created World Food Day. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the creation of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), an arm of the U.N. that aims to achieve “food security for all,” according to its website.
Organizations on the Main Line and throughout Delaware have similar goals, despite both Pennsylvania and Delaware having food insecurity rates below the national average of 14 percent. Chester County Food Bank’s Anne Shuniak says that it’s important to remember these areas, since nowhere is immune.
“[Chester County] is the wealthiest county in Pennsylvania, so folks don’t necessarily think that hunger lives here, too,” says Shuniak. But that’s the wrong perception. One in in 14 people within the county are considered “food insecure,” which the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines as any household that is “uncertain of having, or unable to acquire enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food.”
Shuniak stresses awareness as an important part of changing those statistics. “We have people living on variables in the same zip code,” she says.
While Chester County is on the lower end of the hunger spectrum, with 9.5 percent of residents being underfed, 10.7 percent of those in Montgomery County and 13.9 percent of residents in Delaware County are suffering from hunger, according to Feeding America. All three remain below the state’s average of 14.2 percent.
In Delaware, there is less disparity statewide than there is in the counties around the Main Line. According to that same study, 13.1 percent of Kent County residents are food insecure, while 12 percent of New Castle County and 11 percent of Sussex County residents go hungry.
Meals on Wheels of Delaware, an agency that is responsible for delivering food from shelter kitchens into the hands of hungry senior citizens, is one organization looking to lower those rates even further. Of the different Meals on Wheels national branches, Delaware boasts one of the lowest wait lists, having fed nearly 4,000 seniors thus far in 2015.
“We’re really proud that Delaware is a state that supports its seniors,” says Anne Love of Meals on Wheels of Delaware. Of the state’s senior population, 12.9 percent of them struggle to feed themselves. “They generally aren’t able to get to the grocery store,” she says. “They aren’t able to prepare the food.”
The economic downturn in 2008 was a hindrance that she believes may have added to their struggles. “Some of these seniors really don’t have the financial resources to feed themselves. In many cases, they might have planned for retirement but didn’t have enough put away,” she says.
Donna Hartman a volunteer at West Chester Food Cupboard has seen the cyclical nature of poverty and hunger. “For so many of them, I’ve watched their kids grow up, the celebrations, the deaths,” she says. “We really do get to know them pretty well because poverty doesn’t go away.”
No matter what the causes of food insecurity, for those able to help, it can have a real and positive impact on lives.
Six ways you can help this World Food Day:
- Donate gift cards. Hartman says they specifically need gift cards to grocery stores, such as Acme, Target or even Costco, to get the food into their facilities and into the hands of the needy.
- Volunteer to drive for Meals on Wheels. “The challenge that we see is looking for people to help get the meals from the preparation centers to the individual’s home,” Love says. Since delivery is almost entirely volunteer-based, the organization is constantly in need of support. Volunteers can even make deliveries over their lunch breaks.
- Help plan fundraising events. Meals on Wheels is always looking for people to put whatever skills they have to work for the needy. Since the organization is continuously trying to raise awareness, one of the best ways to help is to join a fundraising committee.
- Donate frozen turkeys. With the holidays coming up, Shuniak says twenty dollars is all it takes to give a family a complete holiday meal. Donate a turkey, the largest part of the meal.
- Don’t forget about the organizations year-round. The Chester County Food Bank sees a dip in donations after the holidays. Winter often sees harder times, especially financially, for the needy. They also see a dip over the summer, when school is no longer in session and people take vacations. It’s a problem for needy families, since their children, who can receive a free lunch at school, have months without them.
- Donate in someone’s name. “What do you get someone who already has everything?” Shuniak says. She suggests making a donation in their name to help agencies collect enough food to fill as many hungry mouths as necessary.
To learn more about ways that you can help, visit feedingamerica.org.