(WHTM) — The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank is trying to understand what hunger looks like in the Midstate and how it can fight it more effectively. Hunger mapping is helping with that
Researchers have collected data from four counties so far.

CEO Joe Arthur says unlike state or national data, this hunger mapping project focuses on local communities and collects data in real-time. He said it is already having an impact on the food bank’s services.

“We’re excited to do the work, but it’s really all about serving our neighbors better,” he said. “This is really about gaining insights, evidence so that we can do our jobs better here.”

The food bank started hunger mapping five years ago in York County.

“We need to dig deeper in our communities to find out more about what our neighbors in need are facing,” Arthur said.

Research now includes Lancaster and Lebanon Counties. The food bank is using this data to find trends. For example, Arthur says not all families eligible for benefits like SNAP are signing up.

“That’s important because for every meal that a food bank provides, the SNAP system provides nine,” he said.

This data also leads to specific changes. For example, in South Londonderry Township, Lebanon County.

“There’s a lot of people that need help, but there’s not much pantry service around. So that tells us we really need to invest there,” Arthur said.

The food bank did, getting a grant to start a mobile pantry there. Doing this work, however, takes time and money.

“This is not something that Central PA Food Bank can do on their own,” Daren Russ, VP of Omnichannel Operations at The Giant Company.

Daren Russ said that is where GIANT can help. The company donated $225,000 to hunger mapping research.

“Really helps support the data and the analytics that they’re bringing forward that I think is really a little bit of a transformation within the space,” Russ aid.

Russ said data the food bank gathers can influence GIANT’s work too.

“How we can tailor our assortments within within our stores, how we can create programs that allow customers to stretch those budget dollar a little bit more,” he said.

With the need for services growing, Arthur says this data is crucial.

“This is helping us really get prepared to serve even more,” he said.

The Central PA Food Bank plans to continue hunger mapping through all 27 counties they serve. Dauphin County is next on the list.