For many, facing food insecurity can leave them feeling ashamed and reluctant to seek help, but food donation organizations across Center County may say otherwise.
As of 2020, the total food insecure population of Center County is 13,660, according to Feeding America.
According to the USDA, food insecurity is defined as the lack of access to sufficient food for an “active, healthy life.”
Mihei Wu, PhD supervisor at Dr. Edwin L. Hare’s clinic, said she believes continued access to food is closely related to a student’s level of well-being.
“When I think about this triangle – food, safety and health… then [those needs] Wu said.
Allen Beck, executive director of the State College Food Bank, said she believes that food insecurity often forces people to make difficult financial choices.
“When you’re trying to figure out if you have to feed your kids or pay your bills, it’s a really tough place to be,” Beck said.
There are additional challenges associated with food insecurity, such as the impact on an individual’s mental health, said Nancy Valverde, a clinic supervisor at Hare Clinic.
“If you can’t meet your basic needs, it will be very difficult to take care of your mental health,” Valverde said.
Jay Odom, a hotline counselor at Center Helps, said the process for seeking help involved “a lot of stress and a lot of shame.”
“Some clients feel they don’t deserve the help, but the resources are there for them,” Odom said.
For Beck, she said getting help at first can be difficult for some people, but there are resources to help.
“Taking that first step is the hardest step,” Beck said. “The situation doesn’t matter – we’re here to help.”
Doctors said there are multiple resources within the community that help those facing food insecurity.
Webster’s Bookstore and Cafe offers free weekly meals on Wednesdays, and Lion’s Pantry caters to students with valid Penn State ID cards.
Beck said the state college food bank “provides extra food for about one to two weeks, and people can receive food every 30 days.”
To use the State College Food Bank, Odum said people need to fill out a “referral” at Center Helps, which can be done over the phone.
For those who feel they are taking resources from others, Beck said “there is enough for everyone. We are here, ready to help anyone.”
Valverde said the community’s food security resources underline the importance of getting support in difficult times.
“Having a community and not feeling isolated at the worst of times to support you, and not having to face something like [food insecurity] Valverde said.
Odom said helping those who are food insecure doesn’t just include delivering the food they need.
“As easy as it is for you to pack a lunch and give it to them, as hard as it is for them to eat,” Odom said.
Odom said people and agencies dealing with food insecurity and associated student poverty need to play a “mentally supportive role.”
“You’re not alone, and it can be scary,” Odom said. “You’re going through a tough time right now. It’s scary, and that’s okay.”
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