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Food banks band together to fight hunger

News Source: Times Leader

Nine facilities across state hope to better fill people’s needs by sharing strategies and ideas.

By Andrew Seder

WILKES-BARRE — A new partnership between nine regional food banks across Pennsylvania hopes to promote the fight against hunger and help members to secure food, fill shortages and share ideas.

The group’s leaders and officials from most of the member food banks gathered at the Weinberg Food Bank in Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday to discuss the initiative and tout its goals. They were joined by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, who serves as the co-chairman of the U.S. Senate Hunger Caucus.

Pennsylvania member food banks last year served more than 2 million people, with demand continuing to remain as high again this year, Caryn Long, the Harrisburg-based group’s executive director, said.

There are an estimated 1.8 million “food insecure” people in Pennsylvania, according to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap study. Feeding Pennsylvania was created, in part, to make sure that number shrinks.

“Feeding Pennsylvania member food banks and other local charities are already stretched to the breaking point trying to keep up with increased need as families in our state continue to feel the impact of the recession,” Long said.

Gene Brady, executive director of the Weinberg Food Bank and the vice chairman of the new Feeding Pennsylvania board, said locally there has been a 10 percent increase in the number of people using a food pantry, soup kitchen, after-school food program or other organization that’s served by the Weinberg Food Bank in the past year. Even though the recession might be ending for some, he said the lower end of the economic spectrum is typically the last to see the positive impacts.

“This recession has been protracted,” Brady said, noting that with so many across the state relying on assistance, a centralized food bank organization can best coordinate resources and assistance among all member organizations so food can find its way to areas with the greatest need and any excess amounts of food at one food bank can be shifted to help those in need elsewhere in the state.

He said the new organization will bring together food banks with common causes and common problems and allow them to communicate and share ideas easier.

“Other states have done it and it’s been successful. We thought we should take a look at doing it too,” Brady said.

While the organization is not listed as a lobbyist entity, Brady said that potential exists as he sees one of the group’s roles being that as an advocate for funding to combat hunger.

Among those at the Weinberg Food Bank to participate in the announcement of the new entity was state Sen. John Yudichak, who voiced frustration with the economy and the percentage of people forced to rely on assistance for food.

“This new association will allow for better cooperation and communication between all of our food banks to ensure that all families are getting the assistance they need – and it will also provide a strong, unified voice in the fight against hunger at the state and federal level,” Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, said.

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