There are about 22,000 children living with hunger and food insecurity in Bucks County. It’s about 16% of all the kids in our community and they all have one big thing in common: fresh foods with essential nutrients are rarely on the menu.
The staples that most Bucks residents feed their children – milk, cheese, eggs, fruits, and vegetables – are almost impossible for low-income families to secure. As a result of these gaps in nutrition, children living with hunger experience both long- and short-term consequences.
In the short-term, children face very real health risks; everything from rickets to obesity to slow physical growth. Longer-term, they are more likely to experience type 2 diabetes, have difficulty learning, and even have problems with mental and emotional health.
Bucks Knocks Out Hunger is looking to change that. Entering its 5th year, Bucks Knocks Out Hunger raises money each year to support the purchase of fresh foods. This year, the event will increase the amount of milk, eggs, cheese, and fresh produce available to both young children and the elderly, two of the most vulnerable populations in Bucks County.
The plan to improve access to nutritious foods comes in response to current needs in the county. If you were to look on the shelves of most food pantries in Bucks County, you’d quickly identify some things they have in common. Pantries have lots of dried pasta, rice and canned vegetables on their shelves, but not a lot of fresh, perishable foods.
Items like dairy products, eggs, and fresh fruits and vegetables don’t get donated often or in much quantity. They’re expensive for pantries to buy with what little discretionary funds they might have and harder to store. A recent survey of Bucks County food pantries by the Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, Share, and Philabundance confirms this. 80% can’t supply enough eggs or dairy for families and 60% can’t supply enough fresh produce. As a result, the nutritional value of what families are offered at a food pantry is lower than what growing children need.
Cathy Snyder, Executive Director of Rolling Harvest Food Rescue, an organization dedicated to providing fresh produce, knows this well. “Pantry clients are among the most at-risk residents we have in Bucks County. They often have fragile health conditions or one or more disabilities. For these folks, good nutrition is especially important. Giving them access to healthy foods is literally life-changing,” she says.
Snyder explains that this is one of the key reasons she partners with United Way of Bucks County’s Bucks Knocks Out Hunger initiative. “The support we get from United Way lets us glean and buy more fresh produce than we could otherwise and that in turn is making food pantries greener and healthier,” says Snyder.
In collaboration with Bucks County Opportunity Council, BKO Hunger piloted a plan to supply additional dairy products earlier this year and pantry managers were quick to share their appreciation. The dairy products distributed in the initial round included eggs, milk, and even special, shelf-stable milk that doesn’t require refrigeration – ideal for those who don’t have access to refrigeration, like families temporarily in motels or people living in their cars.
Cindy Dembrosky coordinates the food pantry at the Keystone Opportunity Center, a food pantry used by many Bucks residents. She described the access to dairy products as “a blessing to so many families.” The additional supplies were timely for a homeless man she was helping. “One of items he asked for was cereal, but of course in his situation, he had no refrigeration, so the shelf-stable milk United Way supplied was perfect for his situation,” explains Dembrosky.
For older residents, access to healthy foods has a dramatic impact. When describing the difference healthy food makes in her life, one low-income senior from Bensalem explained that access to fresh vegetables caused, “[M]y interest in cooking healthy meals for myself to return. I’m eating healthier and am feeling better, both physically and mentally.”
Tim Philpot, the coordinator of BKO Hunger for United Way says responses like these are one of the reasons the organization continues to grow and improve upon the initiative each year. “This is a way we can make significant improvements in the lives of our vulnerable and low-income residents. Donations from the community are really what makes it possible,” he says.
Bucks Knocks Out Hunger will be held on June 30th at Delaware Valley University. Sponsoring organizations include Penn Community Bank as presenting sponsor, as well as BB & T, Bucks County Pre-K Counts Coalition, Bucks County Women’s Initiative, Comcast, Cummins Power Systems, Dow, First National Bank and Trust of Newtown, GE Water and Distributed Power, Parx, PECO, and St Philips Episcopal Church.
BKO Hunger still needs to raise $27,000 by June 30th to keep local families and seniors fed and nourished.
Donations are accepted online at www.uwbucks.org/bkohunger and through coin canisters in organizations throughout the county (a list of locations is available at the website). Contributions also may be made at branches of Penn Community Bank or by mailing a check (note BKO Hunger on the memo line) to United Way, 413 Hood Blvd., Fairless Hills, PA 19030.