Sheila Christopher thought it would be easy three decades ago to end hunger, beginning at a time when the government provided the poor with 5-pound logs of processed cheese.
“We didn’t solve it,” said Christopher, executive director of Hunger-Free Pennsylvania.
“It’s disheartening. It’s bigger than us,” she said last week in her Peters Township office as her organization approaches its 35th anniversary May 29.
Along the way, she said, food banks learned how to do a better job of feeding the hungry, she said.
“Now instead of giving someone a 5-pound bag of flour we give them pasta,” Christopher said.
She said food banks are now doing things such as providing fresh produce to the poor, healthier choices and snack packs for kids on the weekends.
“We are more user friendly,” she said.
Christopher began her career in 1986 when the Washington County Food Bank was becoming a standalone agency. She later went to work for the Corner Cupboard Food Bank in Greene County before landing at the Pennsylvania Association of Food Banks. Today that agency is known as Hunger-Free Pennsylvania, with 18 food bank members.
In 2001, Christopher became a paid employee of the program when it received a federal contract to serve senior citizens.
The program has grown from providing 5,000 boxes of food a month to distributing 36,500 a month now, she said.
“We work with all of our members to do that and try to work the senior high-rises,” Christoper said.
Pennsylvania was the 33rd state to enroll in the program that, as of this year, is in operation in all 50 states.
The food boxes are called prescriptions, and they include canned fruit and vegetables, low-sodium and low-sugar products, canned meat, cereal and cheese.
The government is preparing to purchase $1.2 trillion worth of farm products, including a lot of pork, because of how the tariffs have hurt farmers, said Christoper, 59, of North Strabane Township.
“We don’t like to think there are have-nots,” Christopher said. “We’re still not talking enough about what needs to be done in 2019.”
For more information, visit www.hungerfreepa.org.