By Erin Lukoss, Cathy Snyder, and Marissa Christie
There’s something you should know about the face of hunger in Bucks County. It looks just like you, me, our neighbors, and our kids.
Many of us think we’d recognize hunger immediately, but in our community, it’s not what you think. Hunger in Bucks County impacts all ages, all zip codes, and all ethnicities. When it comes to hunger, don’t think about the stereotypes. Hunger impacts all types.
Since 2007, suburban hunger has doubled, rising faster than the rate of hunger in urban areas. Poverty has also grown twice as fast as in cities. Here in Bucks County, 34.51 percent of families are rent burdened and pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent. Our proportion of rent burdened families is greater than the state average (31 percent) and the national average (33.94 percent).
Despite living in one of the wealthiest counties in Pennsylvania, 1 in 10 Bucks County residents are food insecure. Among children, that number jumps to nearly 1 in 6. In a classroom of 25 children, four will leave school each day unsure if they will have supper that night.
Hunger and poverty don’t live far away. This is happening in our village — and it will take a village to address it.
As threats to our social safety net become more real, more imminent, make no mistake: We will see local problems grow. Proposed federal cuts, like the recommended $191 billion decrease to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), will hurt the most vulnerable people. This will put an unbearable strain on our food pantries.
Food is not a luxury. It is a basic need. It is what gives children the energy they need to learn and adults the ability to go to work every day and be productive. If we want our village to prosper, we need to make sure that there is food — healthy food — on every table.
The societal costs of hunger are significant. Hungry children are more likely to require special education services, to repeat a grade or to receive mental health counseling. Food-insecure senior citizens are 60 percent more likely to experience depression, 53 percent more likely to report a heart attack and 52 percent more likely to develop asthma. These are just some of the outcomes of hunger.
We must respond to hunger swiftly or risk serious and lasting consequences.
One of the tools we use to provide hunger relief locally is a program called Bucks Knocks Out Hunger. Five years ago, our organizations — United Way of Bucks County, Bucks County Opportunity Council, and Rolling Harvest Food Rescue — began working together on this.
We knew that through collaboration, we could provide greater hunger relief — and more nutritious choices — to people in our community. As we publicized the event that first year, we found that many people were shocked (sometimes even suspicious) of local statistics regarding hunger. Still, Bucks County businesses and residents rolled up their sleeves and went to work.
Thanks to the support of sponsors, our partners at Delaware Valley University, and hundreds of local donors and volunteers, Bucks Knocks Out Hunger is making a difference. In five years, we have distributed more than 500,000 healthy, meals, more than 60 tons of fresh fruits and vegetables, and delivered truckloads of lean meats, eggs, milk, and cheese.
It has also paved the way for new collaborations like Fresh Connect, a free, mobile farmer’s market, and a partnership with the County of Bucks that makes cold storage space available for better food distribution.
Our response is growing and collectively, we are becoming more effective and efficient at both fighting hunger and helping at-risk households.
We need the help and support of our village more than ever.
To become part of the solution in Bucks County, you can:
- Give: Bucks Knocks Out Hunger has raised $70,677, but needs at least $75,000 to give children access to milk and cheese and fresh, locally grown produce. Give at www.uwbucks.org/bkohunger or contact United Way at 215.949.1660.
- Advocate: Tell members of Congress to prioritize hunger relief, including SNAP, school breakfasts, and school lunches.
- Volunteer: Rolling Harvest (www.rollingharvest.org), Bucks County Opportunity Council (www.bcoc.org) and perhaps your local food pantry have opportunities for you to help.
These are challenging times, but in every challenge, there is opportunity. Please join us as we work together to improve lives in Bucks County.
This letter by Erin Lukoss, executive director of the Bucks County Opportunity Council, Cathy Snyder, executive director of Rolling Harvest Food Rescue, and Marissa Christie, president & CEO of United Way of Bucks County was originally published in both the Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer on July 14, 2017.