I have seen many advertisements and public service announcements lately about food insecurity. It’s difficult to grasp the scope of this national issue in terms of what I can do, or what the dairy industry can do.
Let’s first focus on Pennsylvania and the needs within our borders. The problem seems too big otherwise.
According to the latest information from Feeding America, 1 of 11 in Pennsylvania’s general population, including 1 in 8 children, don’t have enough to eat.
Based on its Map the Gap study in 2021, the organization reports an average meal in Pennsylvania costs $3.65. Therefore, the food-insecure population requires $7.85 million per year to meet its food needs.
We do compare well with the rest of the country, like most of the northern states, but with a child hunger rate of 12.5%, we have a lot of work to do.
McKean, Forest, Cameron, Clearfield, Mercer and Fayette counties have the highest food insecurity rates in the state.
So while we compare well with the rest of the country, I am not certain that is something to be happy about given that we are an agriculture state.
The 12.5% child hunger rate is too high for me, and information published in 2020 by Penn State’s Pennsylvania Population Network notes tremendous variances in the types of individuals and households dealing with food insecurity.
Unemployed people, households in which the primary income earner has only a high school degree, Hispanic and Black households, and households with only one adult or parent have much higher rates.
Rural populations have slightly higher insecurity rates than urban citizens, and children ages 6 to 18 are most vulnerable among all children.
Where does the dairy industry fit into this problem and its solution?
Two important government initiatives that involve dairy have been proposed by Gov. Josh Shapiro.
One is the Fresh Food Financing Initiative designed to improve access to Pennsylvania agriculture products, including milk and dairy foods. The $2 million investment would help ensure that the underserved populations noted above will have greater access to good nutrition through dairy.
A second proposal is one that would provide free breakfast to every child in Pennsylvania public schools.
We know this breakfast would include milk and hope that flavored lower-fat offerings continue to be a choice, and that whole milk will soon be back in schools.
I have written extensively over the past few months about the nutrition provided in just one 8-ounce serving of milk and have also written about the health benefits of full-fat dairy.
Both initiatives will involve our Pennsylvania producers and processing companies.
There is also an extensive food bank network in the state. Many of those pantries provide healthy dairy products to their patrons.
Federal commodity purchasing programs have provided large quantities of fresh milk and other dairy products to the food bank distribution centers in the state.
We know that one of the drawbacks in the distribution network is that some of the smaller food pantries lack refrigeration space. Many of these pantries, for example, operate out of the basement of a church or other community space and likely cannot offer fresh milk or other dairy products.
What about local efforts to provide two or three used refrigerators to these facilities? Would that work? I think it might. Just a thought.
I contacted several processors to find out what they are doing to help in their communities.
One donates surplus products to a food bank distribution center.
“We hate to see any food go to waste,” the manager told me.
He has found that working with the larger distribution center ensures that the donated products get to where they are needed most. He said lack of refrigeration in some smaller pantries is an issue and another factor in the choice to donate to the larger food bank.
One family-owned business has been donating dairy in its area for decades, and last year gave over $60,000 in dairy products to 17 food pantries.
The company also sells milk monthly at minimum wholesale prices to a county food bank as part of the Fill a Glass With Hope program, and donates support in the form of delivery and financial contributions. During the pandemic, this company participated in the USDA food box program, and it also bids regularly on solicitations from USDA to sell fluid milk to food banks as part of the commodity purchasing program.
Another family-owned processor told me that its business contributes regularly when notified of a need at local food banks, pantries and shelters.
These are just a few examples of how the dairy industry, through state and federal programs, and private efforts, is working to lessen and hopefully eliminate food insecurity in the commonwealth.
The Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board is supportive of all these efforts and encourages readers of this column to find ways to help.
Source : Lancaster Farming July 30th 2023