Words| Debbie Burke
“Wear Orange” is the rally cry for September, which is Hunger Awareness Month. But hunger has many forms.
The United Way of Monroe County and its partners are not only tackling hunger but “food insecurity” which is defined as “a household’s inability to access or afford enough nutritious food for everyone to live an active, healthy lifestyle,” according to Jennifer Strauch, VP of Community Impact at United Way. The problem is made worse by a severe lack of affordable housing for those in the lower income brackets. “This makes individuals question whether to pay their heating bill or pay for food,” added Jennifer.
This past January, United Way of Monroe County helped to launch the Hunger Coalition with many local organizations including the Salvation Army, Pleasant Valley Ecumenical Network (PVEN) Food Pantry, Meals on Wheels, the Garden of Giving, Second Harvest and others. The program dovetails with United Way’s new Access to Healthy Food Impact Initiative, started as a result of United Way’s community needs assessment.
An estimated 18,200 people (10.8%) in Monroe County are struggling with food insecurity according to Feeding America, said Jennifer, with 13,000 local children receiving free or reduced lunches. Yet every little bit helps, such as the United Way-funded Double Bucks program at the Monroe County Farmers Market in Stroudsburg (held on Saturday mornings until mid-October). Through Double Bucks, recipients of SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) who redeem SNAP dollars at the Farmers Market will automatically receive double the amount of their food vouchers up to $20 dollars per day. United Way is also partnering with Second Harvest Food Bank of Lehigh Valley and Northeast PA, to provide weekly fresh produce deliveries to Monroe County families.
The biggest misconception about hunger in America is that it occurs “somewhere else.” But in reality, it’s right here in our neighborhoods and communities. As the cost of high-quality, nutritious food continues to rise, cheap processed foods are plentiful and readily available. Families are tasked with choosing how each dollar is spent, whether it’s buying two nutrient-rich items that will not be enough to eat, or getting many items that are nutritionally vacant but will feel filling.
“This is why the Hunger Coalition is so important to our community,” said Jennifer. “When we work together, we have the ability to impact lives in a meaningful way.”
The public is invited to attend Hunger Coalition of Monroe County meetings on the 3rd Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. at the Northampton Community College -Monroe Campus in Tannersville.
For more information on donating or volunteering, please visit www.unitedwaymonroe.org and click on “Get Involved.”