Times Chronicle & Public Spirit
Hunger in Montgomery County
'Invisible issue' gets some attention in roundtable
ABINGTON >> Ken Lawrence Jr. knows what hunger feels like, he recently told a group of officials at a roundtable discussing the issue.
The vice chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners said he participated in a food stamp challenge in November 2017 and was tasked with spending less than $5 per day on food.
“(The) first thing I learned was you can’t eat well on $4.75 a day,” Lawrence said. A couple of days into the challenge, pain woke him in the middle of the night, he recalled. “And then realizing for the first time in my life I was truly hungry, and when you’re hungry, that’s really all you think about,” he said.
Lawrence shared the anecdote during a roundtable discussion about hunger in Montgomery County with a group of elected officials, advocates and community members meeting at Salem Baptist Church in Abington.
“It’s something that’s invisible here in this community to a degree. We need to talk about it,” Lawrence said.
More than 1.1 million people in Pennsylvania deal with hunger, according to statistics cited by Feeding America. Lansdale-based food pantry Manna on Main Street estimates more than 80,000 people experience food insecurity in Montgomery County, as 6.1 percent of the residents live below the poverty line.
“Our mission is … to address hunger and homelessness one family at a time,” said Tiffany Jones, education and innovation coordinator of Family Promise Montco PA.
Jones stressed the need for accessible and healthy food options during a tour of a newly constructed food pantry facility, located adjacent to Salem Baptist Church and run by Family Promise Montco PA, formerly the Inter-Faith Housing Alliance. Food and other nonperishable items are stored there for client usage. Family Promise distributed around 191,000 pounds of food to 1,892 people, according to a 2022 Impact Report.
After the tour, about 40 people sat in the pews of the church in Abington and talked about hunger with two county commissioners, a U.S.
congresswoman, a pastor, representatives from a college in Montgomery County, and several leaders in the foodbased nonprofit community.
U.S. Rep. Madeline Dean, D-4th Dist., hosted the event, stressing the need to “work to end hunger.” She thanked Salem Baptist Church Pastor Marshall Mitchell for his hospitality.
Pandamic exacerbated food insecurity
The COVID-19 pandemic spotlighted the importance of food pantries around Montgomery County as people experienced financial challenges and needed access to food amid the public health crisis.
“We had so many people who needed food and had no idea how to get it because it had never crossed their mind that they would be in the position
to need food,” said Montgomery County Commissioners’ Chairwoman Val Arkoosh.
Food banks were tasked with navigating health and safety concerns associated with COVID-19 while still trying to feed those in need. Elected leaders representing Montgomery County allocated $2 million in federal relief dollars so food pantries could purchase food, technology and personal protective equipment, according to Arkoosh.
County officials also awarded a $3 million grant to secure a warehouse facility to store additional food donations.
In addition to the pandemic, Hurricane Ida’s aftermath took a toll on area residents.
“That absolutely increased our problems around nutrition and around housing,” Dean said.
Goals to end hunger
Other organizations like Manna on Main Street have
set ambitious goals to combat hunger locally. Executive Director Suzan Neiger Gould spoke of “a North Penn where no one is hungry,” a goal the area hopes to meet over the next 10 years.
For now, need, now driven by inflation, remains evident, MontCo Anti-Hunger Network Executive Director Amanda Musselman said. The nonprofit coordinates resources with roughly 60 pantries across Montgomery County. Representatives circulated a survey in which 75 percent of respondents “stated they’re seeing significant increases in pantry assistance” over the past several months.
Referencing Willow Grove Baptist Church, located at 3600 Welsh Road, in Willow Grove, Musselman noted how the local food pantry tripled its clientele, serving 40 families per week to 120 families. That increased need is compounded by the decrease in donations.
“Our community is so loving, and so generous, and
when you put in a call to action, they come but, two forms: in-kind food donations and monetary locations to our pantry network unfortunately
is lower than what it was during the pandemic, and our donors are facing the same trials and tribulations that we are and our clients
are facing unfortunately that dollar doesn’t stretch as far as it used to,” she said. “So we’re at this interesting crossroads.”