Spike in need: Second Harvest outlines increase demand for food in community

Times Observer file photo Volunteers load food into vehicles at a Second Harvest Food Bank Military Share event in 2021. Second Harvest is seeing a 25 percent increase in need in Warren County.

Nearly 30 sites in Warren County are served by the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest Pennsylvania.

And while inflationary pressures have unsurprisingly driven up the costs for purchasing food, the organization is also seeing a 25.3 percent increase in the level of need over the last year.

Karen Seggi, the organization’s CEO, said the 33 percent increase across its service area is the “greatest increase in need for food assistance” that’s been seen in the last four years.

“You see the increase in food costs every time you walk into a grocery store, and we are seeing how inflation affects not only the Food Bank’s operations, but more importantly, our neighbors,” she said.

They cite a Consumer Affairs report that shows Pennsylvania leading the country in rising food costs as well as a USDA report that indicates the current climate nation-wide has the highest number of individuals and children experiencing food insecurity since 2014.

What factors are driving that insecurity?

“There has been an increase not only in food cost, but the cost of living as (a) whole,” Alex Bohman, digital media and communications coordinator for Second Harvest explained. “The cost of rent, utilities, and gas have increased as well.

“SNAP benefits don’t stretch as far in the month due to inflated food costs. Once the additional COVID-19 SNAP benefits were stopped in early 2023, Second Harvest has seen a steady increase in neighbors in need.”

Data from the organization shows that the cost of food for Second Harvest has increased from $1.7 million in 2019 to $3.2 million currently. The costs of storing and transporting food has increased, as well.

Second Harvest reaches into the vast majority of food programs available in Warren County, even if they aren’t in the name.

That includes the school pantries and backpack programs in county schools, Military Share and Mobile Food Pantry programs, six Senior Food Box Program locations as well as three “Just-in-time Food Pantry” spots.

It also includes the Sheffield Area Food Pantry, First Church of the Nazarene Food Pantry, the soup kitchen and food pantry at St. Joseph Church, Sugar Grove Free Methodist Church’s food pantry as well as two additional ministries in Youngsville – the soup kitchen at the Youngsville Free Methodist Church and the Youngsville Ministerium Food Pantry.

“For individuals who want to help, we are always looking for volunteers to aid us at distributions or in our warehouse,” Bohman said. “People can also host a fundraiser or a food drive for Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest Pennsylvania or donate directly.”

The organization’s website is nwpafoodbank.org.

But they outline a broader way that people can get involved to help respond to the increased need – political advocacy.

“One way to help alleviate hunger is to support a strong Farm Bill,” Second Harvest said in a statement. “With the federal Farm Bill, our lawmakers can come together to ensure no one goes hungry because they’re priced out of affording a meal.”

The Farm Bill includes programs like the Emergency Food Assistance which Second Harvest calls a “cornerstone” to its food supply as well as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which they say is “our nation’s best tool for supporting our neighbors facing hunger.”

They call on residents to contact Representatives Glenn Thompson and Mike Kelly and Pennsylvania’s Senate delegation – Bob Casey and John Fetterman – and “urge them to support a strong 2023 Farm Bill that enhances these programs.”


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