Here in Bucks County, roughly 64,000 people are food insecure. Food insecurity means that these people are just one life event away from not being able to put food on the table, such as a necessary car repair, a late paycheck or an emergency sick leave that affects their income.
Additionally, over 37,000 people receive food stamps (now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) in our county. Following the November 2013 SNAP cuts, people who rely on food stamps feed themselves on only $4.47 each day.
Here at UW Bucks, we are finding out what it’s like to eat on less than five dollars a day. Many members of staff are taking the Bucks Knocks Out Hunger Challenge, spending no more than $4.50 on food on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week. Their efforts are supplemented by our office “food pantry,” reliant on donations from coworkers.
“We want to raise awareness of what it’s like to not be able to go to the cabinet or the refrigerator and just eat whatever you want. You have to be thoughtful of what you take in and what you take for granted,” explained Gayle Evans, Project Director of 21st Century and organizer of the challenge.
“This morning I had a debate with myself if I should put Sweet ‘n Low or sugar in my coffee because I know sweetener is more expensive but it’s what I always use. Every penny is important,” she explained.
So what did Gayle eat yesterday? A bowl of cereal, two dinner rolls, a banana and a glazed donut for dinner. And her colleagues? Katie Matarazzo had a waffle for breakfast, a package of Ramen for lunch and pasta with red sauce at dinner, while Bryan Milburn ate a pack of Poptarts and two hot dogs for the whole day.
Not much variety or many nutrients in those carb-heavy meals.
“Many people with low income have poor health. They don’t have access to healthy foods because they’re more expensive. Donations to food pantries have a lot of sodium, a lot of preservatives – many people who come to food pantries have diabetes because they’re eating the cheapest possible food.” explained Matt Uhler, Project Coordinator for 21st Century, who used to work in a food pantry.
These are struggles that people in Bucks County face every day. Father Sean Slack of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Levittown is involved with a network of over 15 churches that each serve free meals monthly to those in need.
“75 to 100 people come consistently to the meals we host at St Paul’s. We don’t have a registration, there are no questions asked. It’s just food with friends. And some people really do the circuit [of free meals provided by churches]. Maybe as many as 40 or 50 people who go to all the congregations, thanks to a shuttle that Advocates for Homeless & Those in Need provides,” explained Father Slack.
“I grew up in Bucks County. It’s not a surprising for me to see people in need because I know Bucks has diversity. But what people don’t realize is that there is real poverty here in Bucks County, people who don’t have access to the networks we try to provide for those in need. It’s humbling, and it makes me feel blessed. It motivates me to see how much these meals mean to those people,” he continued.
Want to help those who are struggling with hunger here in Bucks County? Bucks Knocks Out Hunger is a fundraiser and food packing event that supports food pantries here in our community. The event is this Friday, June 20th at Delaware Valley College from 8 AM until 12 PM. There are still spots for volunteers to sign up, and we are still $20,000 away from our fundraising goal of $55,000 to provide 100,000 meals and 30,000 pounds of local produce to area pantries. Visit https://uwbucks.wpengine.com/bkohunger to get involved!
About the contributor: Katie Pilot is the Marketing Associate at the United Way of Bucks County. Originally from New Hampshire, she is a recent graduate of Villanova University. The past four years in the suburbs of Philadelphia were great, so she happily decided to stay in the area following her May 2014 graduation.