USA TODAY: Fight Pa. hunger, not each other, this holiday season
By the Editorial Board
Meals on Wheels Erie assists residents during pandemic
Wendy Wallace, executive director of Meals on Wheels Erie, discusses the increased need for assistance the organization has seen. 📹: Kevin Flowers, Erie Times-News
With the election over, clocks turned back, and the month of November underway, we again speed toward Thanksgiving, the traditional start of the holiday season.
We don’t have to look far to find cause for gratitude. A year ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned against traveling and gathering indoors for family holiday celebrations because we remained defenseless against COVID-19. And in the weeks that followed, the pandemic peaked in many areas. Crowded obituary pages telegraphed the suffering and loss.
But this year, with the delta variant surge subsiding and vaccination rates increasing, many will gather this year more safely. That's an extraordinary scientific and logistical feat worthy of both national pride and thanksgiving.
We talk of how the pandemic triggered seismic changes in our work environments and life choices. But COVID-19 is not the only thing that has changed us. The mental strain of the pandemic, disinformation and our flawed human nature have put us on edge, with rage and cruelty erupting at the slightest provocation on our keyboards, in public meetings and rallies. The ill will has broken our politics and even our families.
We don’t have the answers. But we do know it is a sickness in need of as much care as the coronavirus if we are to thrive again as a country premised on “out of many we are one.”
One sure way to set aside self-absorption is to attend the suffering of others, which, by any twist of fate, could someday be our own. Let’s work on that this holiday season. Consider the supply chain bottlenecks an opportunity to dial back consumption and amplify sober reflection, compassion and giving.
So many holiday rituals center on food. But ready access to food is not a given for millions of our neighbors.
Feeding Pennsylvania reports that about 2 million Pennsylvania residents, including 630,000 children, did not have reliable access to adequate healthy meals in 2020. Temporary unemployment caused by COVID-19 business closures drove the numbers of those facing food insecurity higher last year.
A soup kitchen at Erie’s City Mission, which serves the homeless and those affected by poverty, was a case in point. It distributed 365,000 pounds of food in 2020, a 19% increase over the year before.
And the crisis hit children of color, so many already disadvantaged, harder. A new PA Partnerships for Children report found that Black households with children were nearly 3.5 times more likely to report they sometimes or often did not have enough to eat in the past week than white households with children.
While the numbers have started to improve in some areas, they are still higher than pre-pandemic levels. “Many of our neighbors continue to face great need and impossible choices. For many families it is often a decision between food or other critical needs such as child care, utility bills and medication,” Jane Clemonts, chief executive officer of Feeding Pennsylvania said in a September statement.
That is what they are seeing at Second Harvest Food Bank, which distributes more than 12 million pounds of food annually in 11 northwestern Pennsylvania counties. A spokesperson told the Erie Times-News that Second Harvest is providing food to more than 88,000 families — a 12% increase over last year.
There is no stereotyping those affected.
Those who are food insecure can include low-income working families with children, the elderly or people with disabilities living on a fixed income, or those who, due to mental health challenges or catastrophic life events, find themselves homeless.
There is growing awareness that even some college students struggle with hunger.
Delaware County state Rep. Jennifer O’Mara said in a recent meeting about student food insecurity that she worked three jobs to put herself through college but was forced to take out loans to cover food along with books, transportation and other needs.
Food insecurity takes a toll on both the hungry and the community. Inadequate food and nutrition raise the risk of poor health, chronic diseases, hospitalization and higher health care costs. It interferes with learning and school success, which can in turn hem in a child’s prospects for future success and productivity.
Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs nationwide, lists the ways to take action — advocate, give, volunteer.
The Feeding Pennsylvania website, feedingpa.org, lists policy priorities you can champion with lawmakers and information on how to donate funds. This month in Pennsylvania fighting hunger is even as easy as sipping a beer. Breweries across the state have partnered with Feeding Pennsylvania to raise money to fight hunger through a project called Hops for Hunger. Check out the participating breweries here.
Consider the energy and toxic emotion now being wasted on manufactured crises. Hunger is an elemental problem we can solve — if we care to.