• Russell Redding

Lancaster Farming | Supporting the Charitable Food System [Opinion]

By Russell Redding, December 21, 2021 | Lancaster Farming


Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is a literary classic that has grown into a holiday favorite, portraying the spirit of giving by demonstrating the importance of kindness, compassion and community through the lessons learned by protagonist Ebenezer Scrooge.


Scrooge, who many recognize as a disagreeable, greedy character, is transported through journeys of Christmas past, present and future to eventually find a change in heart and new outlook on life.


The most powerful experience of his journey is when Scrooge discovers Bob Cratchit, his employee, is struggling to put food on his family’s table and to provide for the needs of his disabled son, Tiny Tim.


It is a newfound moment of awareness for Scrooge, and it is a lesson that is closer to home than many of us realize.


More than 1.5 million Pennsylvanians do not know where their next meal is coming from. It is a harsh reality that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.


In this season of giving, let us remember our neighbors in need and how we can support the charitable food system within our communities.


At the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the Bureau of Food Assistance is vital to helping food navigate its way into the charitable food system, providing mechanisms to ensure every Pennsylvanian can share in the harvests so many of us take for granted.


Using state and federal resources, the bureau works with Pennsylvania's more than 1,800 local food banks and pantries, lead agencies, soup kitchens and other local nonprofit organizations to secure food products and funding to combat hunger.


We cannot have a charitable food system without a food system that is charitable. As I reflect on all that the agriculture industry has done to support the charitable food system over the past 20 months, there is an immense feeling of pride.


Amid the early months of COVID-19, supply and demand challenges forced many dairy farmers to dump their milk.


And it was these farmers who were at a loss who raised their hands to ask what more they could do to support the charitable food system and their neighbors in need.


Others have contributed their harvests to the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, accepted vouchers through the Farmers Market and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition programs, or have made personal contributions to local charitable food organizations.


Sharing our harvests provides hungry Pennsylvanians fresh, nutritious locally sourced foods. It is an important contribution that is truly making a positive difference, which is why the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System is so important.


PASS provides an avenue for farmers to donate excess harvests and food grown intentionally for donation to reach those in need without costs, reimbursing farmers for expenses associated with harvesting, processing, packing and transportation.


It is a mechanism that is helping the food system achieve charitable giving while simultaneously benefiting hungry Pennsylvanians.


Since 2015, PASS has distributed more than 21 million pounds of food to low-income Pennsylvanians in need of food assistance in all 67 counties.


Supporting the charitable food system is a shared responsibility across the public and private sectors. Through innovative partnerships, we continue to find creative solutions to how we connect food to those in need.


In September, I joined the Westmoreland County Food Bank to announce a new partnership between DoorDash, a takeout food delivery company, and Hunger-Free Pennsylvania and Feeding Pennsylvania’s network of food banks to deliver Senior Food Box Program packages to eligible seniors.


Seniors often face barriers to food assistance programs because of transportation, mobility and technology challenges.


Through this partnership, food boxes are delivered to homebound seniors where coverage overlaps between DoorDash and those enrolled in the program. It is an innovative partnership that has seen immense success and is reshaping how we make food accessible to all.


At the end of “A Christmas Carol,” Scrooge generously provides the Cratchit family with a Christmas turkey and upholds a newfound commitment to giving to those in need for the rest of his life. Though a fictional tale, it is a reminder to us all to give where we can.


Through PASS, innovative partnerships and donation of time or other resources, we can all do our part to benefit those in need.


The Department of Agriculture is proud to support these efforts. If you are interested in learning more about PASS or other charitable food system programs, visit agriculture.pa.gov.


Together, we can help Pennsylvania achieve food security, one intentional act at a time.