LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — Fighting hunger in Lancaster County is the goal behind a new report by the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank.
Nearly 10 percent of people in Lancaster County experience food insecurity, and researchers say this report not only addresses why, but it also has recommendations for what to do about it.
“We are not under any illusions that this will be able to eliminate very low food security in a short period of time. This will take a long period of work, along with sustained and systemic investments of the federal and state levels,” Central PA Food Bank Senior Manager of Policy Research Zach Zook said.
Still, the Central PA Food Bank is in it for the long haul.
“There’s also some specific things that we can do right now,” Zook said.
It starts with the 66-page Community Hunger Mapping report on food insecurity.
“We haven’t had this type of data before,” Zook said.
The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank partnered with a coalition of other groups called Hunger-Free Lancaster County, spending over a year on this Community Hunger Mapping Report. Zook said they analyzed already available data and collected their own through interviews, listening sessions and surveys.
Some of the major findings include that children and communities of color are most likely to experience food insecurity. Food pantries are the first line of defense but can do more to reduce barriers like income and document requirements.
The report is not just numbers. It also focuses on solutions, like how food pantries and their pantries and their partners can work together to reach more people, help them access government benefits and push for policies like expanding the child tax credit and ending work requirements for federal programs like SNAP.
“We think that it will help us make better decisions as an organization, and it will also help us better advocate for our neighbors in need,” Zook said.
Groups in Hunger-Free Lancaster County are also working on how they can help.
“What we can do is where we have a close relationship with our patients,” said Alice Yoder, Executive Director of Community Health at Lancaster General Hospital.
Yoder said the health system can play a role in ending hunger by linking patients with solutions.
“We could then make a referral to the food pantries, the community meals to close that gap,” she said.
For Yoder, one thing that stuck out to her in the report is how few people are using government benefits like SNAP and WIC. The report found that just 50 percent of food pantry visitors participate in SNAP, even though at least 85 percent could be eligible. Yoder said health care professionals can also help connect patients with those resources.
“Those are put in place to really help people that are in need…and then people in our community, were just not taking advantage of it,” she said.
Zook and Yoder said this report and its recommendations are a real step towards ending hunger in Lancaster Count.
“We hope to also set an example for the rest of the nation with what can be done when we work together both as a charitable food system, but as a whole community to reduce food insecurity,” Zook said.
The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank said the next step is to keep tracking this data while they work on those solutions and update their findings in real time. They also plan to expand research to other counties in the Midstate.