Guest Opinion: Hunger and food insecurity persists in Pennsylvania
I recently joined my colleagues in the Hunger Caucus in opening the state’s Hunger Garden at the Capitol. Since 2010, this annual event has been celebrated and kick-starts our activities in support of our farmers and citizens. As co-chair of the bipartisan and bicameral legislative caucus, I am proud of the work and partnership involved in this effort — from the master gardener program of the Penn State Cooperative Extension which tends to the land, to Feeding Pennsylvania (our statewide association), and to the many food pantries and food banks that help distribute food to our citizens in need.
As this season starts, I have reflected upon former state Sen. Michael Brubaker’s original intentions for creating this caucus and its value in the fight to eliminate hunger and food insecurity in the commonwealth. After the global financial collapse of 2008, Brubaker, of Lancaster, R-36th Dist., saw many Pennsylvanians were facing economic situations not seen since the Great Recession. He knew many of these families needed some support to get them through a rough period. At that time, 1.2 million Pennsylvania households were facing food insecurity or hunger, almost 400,000 of whom were children. He and former state Rep. John Myers, of Harrisburg, D-201st Dist., decided more needed to be done to find legislative solutions to this massive and growing problem.
One of the very first actions was to conduct an extensive review and legislative hearing around the dual issues of hunger and food insecurity. What followed was the creation of the legislative Hunger Caucus, then the symbolic and worthwhile action of creating the Hunger Garden. However, I believe since the former senator’s departure, we have lost our way as a caucus. We have focused on the annual opening of the garden, but we’ve forgotten its relationship to the larger reality of far too many Pennsylvania citizens and families who are in need in our collective legislative action!
Once again, we are facing a global financial reality where our families need support. During this global pandemic, we saw a tremendous increase in the demand on our food pantries and food banks. We are seeing more and more single parent households led by women with children, and those families need additional food support. We need concerted and focused legislative actions, in tandem with efforts from private, nonprofit, and public stakeholders, to meet the needs of these families.
We must return to our original intent for this caucus — to educate our colleagues and the public on the issues of hunger and food insecurity, and that includes finding legislative solutions to support private and public actions to support low-income earners.
Yes, the Hunger Garden is vitally important, and we should celebrate its place in this fight to end food insecurity and hunger, but we must not stop there. I want to thank state Sen. Elder Vogel, of Beaver County, R-47th Dist., for his willingness to step up and take on the role as the Senate chair of the caucus and I look forward to actively working with him and his team to reignite the active work of the Hunger Caucus. Far too many lives depend on us, and we will not fail them.
Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-19th Dist., represents a portion of Allegheny County.