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  • Writer's pictureHunger-Free Pennsylvania

LOOKING BACK: Backyard garden programs blossomed into PASS

What started out as a small backyard garden initiative in the late 1980s has blossomed into one of the state’s most important anti-hunger programs connecting farmers with food insecure families in need of fresh produce and remains a driving force behind expanding senior express meal deliveries statewide.

Looking back through the Hunger-Free Pennsylvania archives turned up this article from the Washington Observer-Reporter in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The story details the launch of the share-a-crop initiative, which aimed to deliver backyard gardeners’ excess produce to older residents in need. The program began with 150 older residents, but quickly grew. The initiative sought to get even more gardeners to participate in the program to fill what even then was a growing need.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Hunger remains an epidemic in Pennsylvania, and is especially harmful to seniors. Food insecurity among seniors contributes to malnutrition, which exacerbates disease, increases disability, decreases resistance to infection and extends hospital stays. Malnutrition also increases care-giving demands and inflates health-care expenditures associated with premature or extended hospital or nursing home stays.

Hunger-Free Pennsylvania recently launched its senior express meal delivery program, where volunteers collaborate to get boxes of nutritious food to homebound seniors and others who aren’t able to get around easily to pick up their meals. It’s founded on the same principle as the share-a-crop initiative --- helping seniors in our community.

On an even larger scale, the share-a-crop initiative was the forerunner to the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System (PASS). Through PASS, the Department of Agriculture provides funding to cover the costs associated with harvesting, processing, packaging, and transporting surplus products including fruits, vegetables, eggs, dairy, meat, and grains in order to donate those items to the charitable food system.

This little idea about backyard gardens from decades ago ended up being the seed that bloomed into some big programs that continue to help tens of thousands of hungry families and seniors in need today.

Oh, and if you read the article carefully, you’ll note the contact for the program: “Applicants may get in touch with Sheila Homer …” Yep, you guessed it. That’s Sheila (Homer) Christopher, Hunger-Free Pennsylvania’s executive director, who has been leading the state’s fight against hunger for nearly 35 years now.

Here’s to good ideas and good people! If you'd like to support the continued statewide fight against hunger, please consider making a tax-deductible donation today.


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