September is Hunger Action Month. For most Americans, being hungry is how we feel when our stomach growls in between meals, or when we smell something appetizing as we walk down the street. But when we talk about hunger as an issue, we mean food insecurity which is not having regular access to enough food to live an active, healthy life. According to the USDA, 34 million Americans face food insecurity. "Millions of people in America are just one job loss, missed paycheck, or medical emergency away from hunger. But hunger doesn't affect everyone equally - some groups like children, seniors, and Black, Indigenous, and other people of color face hunger at much higher rates. Hunger also most often affects our neighbors who live in poverty." (Feeding America).
To bring this issue closer to home, let me tell you about food insecurity in Harrisburg and how my organization, Downtown Daily Bread (DDB), takes action to fight hunger.
In Harrisburg, there are thousands of people who live in poverty and experience food insecurity. DDB operates a year-round, walk-in Soup Kitchen, open to all people in need of a free meal. It is the ONLY food assistance program in the community that serves two meals a day, provides an indoor sit-down dining room, and offers second servings. No ID or proof of income or residency is required.
We believe that no one should go hungry or without shelter. We are a gateway to basic human services for hundreds of homeless and hungry individuals. In addition to our Soup Kitchen, we offer a Day Shelter, winter Night Shelter, and numerous personal assistance programs including showers, mail delivery, and counseling.
The Soup Kitchen has been in operation for almost 40 years. Lunch is offered daily, and breakfast is provided on weekday mornings. On an average day, 100-120 people eat here. In 2021, there were more than 26,000 visits to the Soup Kitchen.
Half of our diners are homeless individuals, living on the streets or in tent encampments. The other half are people living in poverty with an income that does not cover their basic needs. They have significant risk of becoming homeless. The kitchen's free meals, help this vulnerable population devote their limited resources to housing, health care, and other non-food essentials.
One of our diners is Robert who is 63 years old, an army veteran, and has a long history of living on the streets in Harrisburg. He has been coming to DDB for more than a decade to eat meals, take showers, sleep in our shelter, and talk with staff. A few months ago, something clicked for Robert, and he decided to accept help from a local veterans' assistance organization. He now rents a room close to DDB, receives counseling, and still comes to our Soup Kitchen to eat meals and socialize with friends.
So far this year, Soup Kitchen attendance is up 16%. If this rate continues, we project more than 30,000 visits by the end of the year. Based on the current economy, we anticipate that usage will continue to rise in 2023.
We partner with the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank as a source of food and advice. We also receive donations from local businesses and many generous individuals. Our Soup Kitchen is also fortunate to receive weekly deliveries of fresh vegetables grown in the Capitol Hunger Garden, right up the hill from us. The garden is sponsored by the PA Legislative Hunger Caucus and diligently tended to by so many wonderful Master Gardeners and volunteers.
To learn more and support Downtown Daily Bread's efforts to serve people in Harrisburg who are food insecure and/or homeless, please visit our website. Together, we help our community thrive!