Month-long June fast targets hunger, food insecurity

It’s June, and as many of you may have heard, state Rep. Ed Gainey and I have embarked on our 30-day challenge to end hunger by fasting after sunrise and before sunset for the entire month.

Many have asked us what we hope to achieve, and why we’re trying to address a problem with so many obstacles.

To the first question, we decided on this fasting challenge to symbolize the growing challenges faced by over a million Pennsylvanians dealing with hunger and food insecurity. We hope to raise understanding about what is hunger and food insecurity, how it is impacting every corner of the commonwealth and spotlight the hundreds of thousands of working Pennsylvania citizens needing help.

It is our goal to strengthen and grow our vital safety net programs while crafting policies aimed at addressing the root causes of hunger and poverty.

To the second question, we say all things are possible through faith, vision, and collective work and actions. 

We would be remiss if we did not acknowledge that June is budget month in Harrisburg.  Budgets are a reflection of our priorities and represents the things we believe are our collective responsibility to ensure for each citizen.

Our intention is to focus intensely on the needs and interests of our most vulnerable citizens during the month.

It also is the most ideal time for us to set an example for our colleagues in the General Assembly, as well as the over 360,000 people being served annually by the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank, by making sure they know there are folks in Harrisburg who will never forget what they are facing.  Sometimes, you simply have to step into someone’s shoes to truly understand the obstacles they face.  

We can all agree food is essential to living creatures to maintain life.  Food is directly connected to health and good food promotes good health.

Hunger in Pennsylvania is not a product of low food production but rather a lack of access to nutritious foods and the inability to pay for it.  Even the best of us who may set budgets and maintain a strict schedule over our spending habits sometimes face decisions like how to pay rent each month, which in turn means healthy foods become unaffordable.

Far too many low-wage workers, retirees, people with disabilities, veterans and their families are forced to buy less expensive and less nutritious filler foods to keep their and their children’s stomachs from growling, but it doesn’t provide what they need to grow, learn or just exist.

People who suffer from chronic hunger don’t have the option of eating when they are hungry.  According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food insecurity is defined as a person or household that does not have regular, reliable access to the foods needed for good health.

In Pennsylvania, over 520,000 children -- or 19 percent of our state’s children -- are considered food insecure.

In the region I serve with Rep. Gainey, over 76,000 children and 92,000 senior citizens 60 or older face the challenge of not knowing where they will have an opportunity to have a nutritious meal.  Moreover, communities of color tend to experience higher levels of poverty and hunger than the general population, making it no surprise that the impacts on those communities tend to be disproportionate and deeper.

Hunger and food insecurity is the direct result of failed policies, as well as the systemic challenges to our social safety net programs connected to poverty, racial discrimination, and gender inequities.

As members of the General Assembly, Rep. Gainey and I believe we can change this for the better.  We believe that we can work with our colleagues in Harrisburg to get started. 

We believe hunger and poverty levels can be reduced and eventually eliminated using a focused lens.

We’re committed to creating a path for our children to quality education, proven work force development that connects our citizens to higher wages with health care coverage, expanded business opportunities, a dedicated and sustainable state appropriation to our extended learning programs and increased allocations to other safety net programs.

We’re striving for policies that support women-headed households with children, target men who might have children but are unable to secure employment and don’t penalize married couples who need additional support.

Our fasting during June is an effort to galvanize our collective will to truly address a silent but growing challenge to our system, which is hunger and food insecurity.  You can join us in this effort by sharing your stories, writing letters to the editors in your local newspapers, asking those in your social network to discuss this issue and to provide opportunities for others to be learn about the issues.

You also can volunteer at local agencies that support those impacted by these challenges, and you can pray and ask your faith leaders to add this to their weekly bulletins and sermons.

This and so much more can be done to increase the awareness about the hidden challenge that hunger and food insecurity is causing our system.  Please join us in whatever way you can.