It’s About Access…
At the end of September, the US Census Bureau released new statistics about poverty in the United States. In 2009, 14.3 percent of Americans lived at or below the poverty line. That’s over 44 million people or, 1 in 7—the highest number of people in 51 years and the highest percentage since 1994. The numbers are staggering, but they are in no way surprising. Especially not in Philadelphia. It was just this past January that the Food Research and Action Center released a report that named Pennsylvania’s First Congressional District—an area that covers Chester, South Philadelphia and parts of North Philadelphia—the second hungriest district in the nation, only after the Bronx. For those of us who have watched the lines grow at weekly food distributions here in the Delaware Valley, the Census Bureau’s announcement merely confirmed what we already knew: the situation on America’s Main Streets is getting worse, even while Wall Street is recovering.
The story of poverty that haunts Philadelphia is inextricably tied to story of food insecurity. One in three children in this area are food insecure; 27,000 of them are experiencing the worst form of food insecurity: hunger. 8,000 are under the age of three. For thousands of families in the Delaware Valley, they have to make a choice between paying rent or buying food, paying to see the doctor or eating dinner. During the school year, the National School Lunch program performs a vital role in maintaining the health of Philadelphia’s children. But what happens when the school bell rings and class is dismissed? For many, that bus ride home is fraught with the pains of hunger instead of the normal worries about homework.
But behind food insecurity, there is an even grimmer story playing about food access. Because even when unemployment, SNAP and WIC benefits are available, there is no guarantee that good food will be. There are areas of this city where you can drive block after block and never see a grocery store or even a corner market selling fresh produce. Chester hasn’t had a grocery store since 2001 and there are blocks in this city where you will find fried food options galore, but nary an apple or an orange for miles. As a result, either people have to travel great distances to find good food or they have to settle for the convenience store items sold around the corner.
Access to nutritious foods is vital to dealing with the issues of food insecurity in Philadelphia, but it’s not an easy problem to solve. As one of the Northeast’s largest food banks, Philabundance recognizes the need to address food access, which is why you can now find fresh produce distributions at twelve sites in our nine county service area through our Fresh for All program. Sixty-five percent of our distributions are, in fact, fresh produce and we’ve created strong partnerships with businesses that deal with fresh products. But with the recession, everyone’s hurting and donations have been down this year, forcing us to look at purchasing food from further and further away, straining our limited resources.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of poverty in the United States. But did you know that it’s also relatively easy to effect positive change in your own community? Your donation of a few dollars can make the difference between a bus ride filled with the dread of empty cupboards or one filled with the dread of homework. For less than the price of a venti latte or a bought lunch, you can help us help make sure everyone has access to good food. Skip the latte or brown bag it for a week, and your donation could go even further. Every dollar really does count. If you want to take a stand and be part of something big, help us drive hunger from our communities and make a donation online today.