It is difficult to navigate life’s challenges on an empty stomach, but with a global pandemic squeezing the economy, hunger and food insecurity is a reality for a growing number of people.
By supporting nonprofits like the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank in Harrisburg, the Second Harvest Food Bank in Nazareth, as well as organizations that distribute food, the business community is rising to the challenge.
For example, a volunteer kitchen and pantry at Steelton-Highspire Elementary School is battling local hunger, and Capital BlueCross is playing a major supporting role.
That kitchen is home to the Family Fresh Cupboard program, one of 33 school pantry programs operated by the nonprofit Central Pennsylvania Food Bank.
That food bank serves 135,000 people per month in 27 counties stretching from Potter and Bradford counties to the north, to the southern tier counties between Bedford and Lancaster.
With funding from Capital BlueCross, the Steelton-based pantry distributed nearly 80,000 pounds of fresh, frozen, and shelf-stable food – roughly the weight of a fully loaded 18-wheeler – to hundreds of families since March 13 when the pandemic took root.
A smaller, sister program operating out of Elizabethtown High School helped dozens of struggling families as well.
“We know that students struggle mentally and physically if they are hungry,” said Susan Hubley, Capital BlueCross’ vice president of Corporate Social Responsibility. “One in every five kids lives in a household that struggles to get food on the table. Capital BlueCross is committed to this program because it supports not only the student, but the entire family struggling with hunger.”
Capital BlueCross teamed up with the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank to launch the Family Fresh Cupboard program in 2018. The initial funding helped each district purchase an industrial-sized refrigerator and freezer to store fresh food and dairy products, and its continued funding enables the pantry to serve a large number of families in need.
These “choice” pantries, as they are called, are set up to allow families with children enrolled in the Steelton-Highspire and Elizabethtown school districts to visit the cupboard weekly to shop for what they need said Dave Lloyd, the food bank’s youth program manager.
And there is plenty of need.
All of Steelton-Highspire School District’s roughly 760 students are eligible for free breakfast and lunch, Lloyd said. “When students are hungry, their families are hungry.”
A typical family food box from the pantry might contain 20 pounds of healthy food including fresh produce, milk, dairy products, and meat, according to Lloyd. Recipe cards, nutrition information, and literature on other charitable community programs are included.
To accommodate social distancing, the distribution model at the pantry shifted from “drop in” to “drive through,” Carl said. Now, volunteers place the boxes of food in the vehicle’s trunk or in bags, wagons, or carts used by those without a vehicle. Occasionally, volunteers will deliver food to clients who cannot leave the house.
The pantry is open every other Wednesday from 3-7 p.m. If students return to classes full time, the pantry will return to a weekly distribution schedule, Lloyd said.
Those interested in more information about the school pantry program can call the main Central Pennsylvania Food Bank number at 717-564-1700, or visit the website at www.centralpafoodbank.org.