Pa. Agriculture Secretary: ‘Pennsylvania will not accept hunger as its next pandemic’

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GETTYSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The food supply in Pennsylvania is plentiful and safe, that’s the big message from Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding, who spoke to reporters from his Gettysburg area farm on Wednesday.

That’s not to say there aren’t challenges all along the food chain, from processing to purchasing. All in all, Redding insists, Pennsylvania has weathered the Covid-19 crisis and is meeting the demand.

“Pennsylvania will not accept hunger as its next pandemic,” Redding said, while admitting that one of his top concerns is getting enough food on the shelves of food banks and food pantries across the state.

He also spoke of “transition” for farmers and processors. He said before the crisis, the average Pennsylvanian consumed 50% of their meals outside the home. Now, he says, it’s 100% inside the home.

Consumer demand has soared while most commercial demand from schools and institutions has plummeted. That has caused a hiccup in the supply chain and a need to re-tool.

“Food services buys 20 pounds at a time in one box,” Redding said. “Consumers want a pound at a time.”

This has caused, in some instances, milk and eggs to be dumped and animals to be euthanized. But, Redding insists, Pennsylvania agriculture is adjusting.

He said he is pleased that consumers in the state have gotten the message and aren’t as aggressively panic shopping as they did when Covid-19 first hit. But he says he’s still concerned about the safety of food chain workers.

Many employees in food processing plants have been sickened, and some have closed. He said his department is working closely with those companies and offering guidance on how to re-open safely and keep everyone safe.

“If there’s a silver lining, it’s refreshing that there are now so many people that understand who is feeding them,” Redding said of a new appreciation for the people that grow the food, ship the food, process the food and stock the food on store shelves.

The state is not just concerned about feeding bodies during the pandemic. It’s also focused on fixing minds. Mental health is being tested as never before as residents are forced to stay home, perhaps losing their jobs or businesses, and forced out of daily routines. A new hotline to help those struggling to cope got more than a thousand calls in its first few days of operation.

“There’s just an uncertainty around this pandemic,” said Teresa Miller, Secretary of Human Services. “I think it has us all on edge, with feelings of anxiety and helplessness and depression. And those feelings are completely normal.”

If you or someone you know is struggling emotionally and need to talk or get access to mental health services the number to call is 1 (855) 284-2494.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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