McMurray-based advocate credits Congressional delegation for making it easier to feed those in need
Barbara Miller, Staff Writer
Mar 31, 2020
Those who are new at receiving products from a food bank usually have to sign a declaration that they’re truly in need.
With the unanimous help of Pennsylvania’s members of Congress and the U.S. Senate, the process has gotten a bit quicker when the novel coronavirus pandemic has led to joblessness among thousands in the Keystone State when the businesses where they worked closed.
“Although we have to count people we serve, we don’t have to collect paperwork during this crisis for new people,” said Sheila Christopher, executive director of McMurray-based Hunger-Free Pennsylvania, a network of food banks and charitable organizations. The paperwork deals with income eligibility.
“We know we’re going to get people unemployed due to the crisis going through drive-through distributions and sometimes the lines get pretty long. To have to read the disclaimer to the (new) recipients would take a lot of time,” she said.
Another goal was to have both recipients and people distributing goods maintain public health by social distancing, which would be harder to do when sharing papers and pens. In truck-to-trunk distributions, the person behind the steering wheel may not even have to roll down the vehicle’s window.
Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding received federal approval Friday for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to operate a Disaster Household (food) Distribution program. Christopher credited U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Peters Township, and U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia, for spearheading the effort at the federal level, along with the office of U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey. Gov. Tom Wolf and the agricultural industry also voiced support for the declaration.
Christopher said she and her associate director, Thomas Dubs, “do what Connie (Burd, executive director of the Greater Washington County Food Bank) and her crew don’t have time to do, handle the bureaucracy for our members,” Christopher said.
She described Hunger-Free Pennsylvania as “more of an administrative office for the state Association of Regional Food Banks.”
Greater Washington, Westmoreland, Greater Pittsburgh and Fayette County Community Action food banks are among its members, which extend to Philadelphia, the Lehigh Valley, Erie and many places in between.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides these and similar organizations in each state with 100% American-grown commodities.
Christopher said food banks and pantries continue to meet the needs of the more than 1.5 million Pennsylvanians who face hunger, while supporting those who are temporarily unemployed and in need of assistance.
“This was a full-out campaign by our federal elected officials,” said Christopher, a self-described “pencil-pusher. We’re very, very grateful to them.”