Over a month ago, on September 30th, I wrote a post about how the Pennsylvania budget impasse was impacting one of our local food pantries. Well it is 43 days later and we still do not have a budget in the state of Pennsylvania. Today is day 135 without a budget, and while I have not been back to that particular food pantry, I can only imagine their situation is even more bleak. Food banks and pantries across the Commonwealth, in places like the city of Carlisle and Juniata, Bucks and Carbon County, are struggling to meet the needs of the numerous people in their communities who rely on them to make their food ends meet.
According to the PA Department of Agriculture website, Pennsylvania leads the nation in the amount of food assistance it provides to its residents under the State Food Purchase Program (SFPP). Actually, only a handful of states even provide state revenue for an emergency assistance food program for low income residents. This program serves PA residents with an annual income at or below 150% of the poverty line ($27,795 for a family of three). Through this program cash grants are awarded to lead agencies in each county, allowing them to buy items in bulk, which are then distributed to smaller emergency food providers within the county. These food purchases are made at wholesale or competitively bid prices to further stretch the funds available.
This week the struggle to continue to assist people needing emergency food, while dealing with the lack of funds resulting from budget impasse, hit home once again. Tuesday is my usual day to volunteer in the other local food pantry in my neighborhood. When I arrived I was informed about the new guidelines for distributing food we had to follow as a result of the lack of funding from the state. Basically we are having to ration what we have, because we do not know how long we will have to go until we receive food from the lead county agency that receives SFPP funding. For smaller households, 3 and under, the reduction in the amount of non-perishable food they received was not that noticeable, but for the larger households, and on Tuesday we packed food for two households of 6, the non-perishable food allotment was almost cut in half. Luckily we have a wide variety of produce in stock and because it is perishable, must be moved in regular quantities. Between the produce and donated items, like bread, we were able to augment the diminished supply of non-perishable food the clients received. But winter is coming and the produce supply will dwindle and the amount of donated bread varies from week to week, so some weeks we will have little with which to supplement the non-perishable food.
The approach of Thanksgiving and Christmas causes further concern for many food banks and pantries. This is a time of year when utilization of emergency food services surges, as people who may not regularly frequent emergency food providers turn to them for the food for their Thanksgiving and Christmas tables. Without the necessary state funding, meeting this extra demand will be a challenge for many food banks and pantries, like King’s Kettle Food Pantry in Shippensburg, who has already had to draw on extra funds they had set aside for their annual Thanksgiving turkey dinner baskets, just to keep the doors open these past few months. Similarly, Project SHARE (Survival Help and Recipient Education) in Carlisle wonders if their Thanksgiving meal boxes will be able to be distributed if they do not receive their state funds. They currently have less than 100 turkeys, but expect 1500 families to turn out to receive these Thanksgiving meal boxes.
Thanksgiving is my youngest son’s favorite holiday. He loves turkey and all the other side dishes that adorn our Thanksgiving table. I can’t imagine looking into his expectant eyes and telling him that we will not be able to have Thanksgiving this year. Even more difficult to imagine would be having to tell my family on a daily basis that we will have to eat less in order to make our diminished allowance from the food pantry last for the month. If you live in Pennsylvania I strongly urge you to contact the Governor’s office and your local members of the General Assembly to insist they seriously work on reaching a compromise to get the budget passed. These are real people who are being affected by this stalemate.
Additionally, I urge you to seek out your local food pantry and ask what their current need might be. Many food pantries have a list of their most needed items if you want to donate food items. If your local food pantry is distributing turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, you can also give them the grocery store coupon you may have earned for a free turkey. Cash donations are always appreciated as well. Food pantries may have the ability to purchase items at a discounted rate, further stretching any monetary donation.