(STL.News) – As Pennsylvania works to mitigate the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus, the Wolf Administration has made it a priority to address food insecurity in the commonwealth by protecting our local supply chain, advocating for necessary waivers and resources, and ensuring equal access to healthy food for all.
“As we seek to ensure health and safety for Pennsylvanians and work together to save lives as we mitigate against COVID-19, food has never seemed more important,” said Governor Tom Wolf. “We depend on farmers to continue to work the land, processors to make products, grocery workers to be there at check out, and volunteers to support our food banks and pantries.”
Pennsylvania is home to a strong and diverse agriculture and food industry, with a reputation for innovation and generosity, that creates a strong foundation for food security in the commonwealth. Ensuring Pennsylvanians have equal access to food is a critical piece of a large, complex puzzle.
“These uncertain times have highlighted the complexity of our nation’s food supply chain and required a new way of thinking. We’ve been actively triaging unprecedented situations as they arrive and working around the clock and across agencies to guide the industry and ensure food remains available and accessible. Hunger will not take hold in this commonwealth,” said Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. “I’m humbled by the incredible innovation, collaboration, and tenacity we’ve seen as we work with the private, public, and nonprofit sectors to stave off food insecurity in Pennsylvania.”
Before COVID-19, more than 1.5 million Pennsylvanians experienced chronic hunger on a regular basis, including nearly half a million children. Over the past several weeks, hundreds of thousands more have found themselves reliant on the charitable food system as businesses closed their doors and schools moved to homebound, virtual learning to mitigate the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus. Furthermore, there is an entirely new set of Pennsylvanians finding themselves in need of emergency food resources.
From the very beginning of Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts, agriculture and the entire food supply chain was deemed as life sustaining. To support the industry and protect the workforce, the Wolf Administration has encouraged food production and processing operations to remain open and adhere to a series of comprehensive guidance to minimize risk, maintain a healthy workforce, and ensure the safety of food.
In addition to guiding the agriculture industry, the administration has diligently worked with Pennsylvania’s charitable food system to provide guidance for limiting risk related to COVID-19, acquire waivers from federal agencies to ensure those who need food can receive it, and source resources from every angle to support operations.
Pennsylvanians receive support and assistance through many ways outside of Pennsylvania’s network of nearly 3,000 food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and other feeding programs that serve more than two million each year. The Departments of Aging, Agriculture, Education, and Human Services, along with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, have all worked to expand availability of programming, acquire necessary waivers, and increase resources during Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
Further, the Wolf Administration is committed to ensuring that Pennsylvanians know that resources are available to them by creating and updating a Responding to COVID-19 Guide that provides a comprehensive list of information and available supports, as well as an Access to Food survey to identify areas of high need.
Additionally, the Wolf Administration has collaborated with public and private partners to ensure that supplies and donations can be allocated to meet feeding needs across Pennsylvania.
Volunteer efforts to distribute meals and other life-sustaining services in Pennsylvania are considered essential activity, even with a statewide Stay-at-Home Order in place. The charitable food system is supported by a foundation of tens of thousands of volunteers who generously give of their time to ensure that no one in Pennsylvania ever has to wonder where their next meal is coming from. Because of increased need, as well as health concerns among many members of the traditional volunteer base, more volunteers are needed to help buttress the system.
First Lady Frances Wolf has called for healthy Pennsylvanians to consider volunteering to help those who need it, reminding them to follow all safety precautions while doing so.
“Pennsylvania is well situated to meet the increased demand for food assistance and support throughout the commonwealth, and will continue to utilize available data and collaborate with public and private partners to ensure that no Pennsylvanian goes hungry during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Wolf said. “This public health crisis has highlighted the importance of Pennsylvania’s agriculture and food industry and that providing a safe, continuous, accessible supply of food is essential to recovery.