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A Look at Food Insecurity in Chester County

Chester County, renowned for its scenic landscapes and affluent lifestyle, may not immediately evoke thoughts of widespread food insecurity. However, the harsh reality is that this issue is on the rise in our county, affecting thousands of individuals, families, seniors, and veterans. The Chester County Food Bank (CCFB) was created in 2009 as a non-government 501c3 to be the central hunger relief organization in Chester County. Established to address the escalating hunger problem in the county, the primary goal was, and still is, to have a viable, sustainable organization that secures, manages, and distributes food to neighbors in need.

Understanding Food Insecurity

Food insecurity is broadly defined as “an individual or community that is without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food at any given time.” Simply, it means that individuals and families are unsure of where their next meal will come from, leading to constant uncertainty and stress. It’s not merely about having enough food but also having access to the right kind of food to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The Chester County Food Bank goes beyond hunger and is proud that over 50% of the 3.5 million pounds of food we distribute is fresh fruits and vegetables.

Food Insecurity in Chester County

Food insecurity is not confined to areas of high poverty. In Chester County, having no or limited access to food is more prevalent than one might expect. The reality is that over 40,000 of our neighbors, coworkers, and friends living in all towns across Chester County struggle to consistently put food on the table.

Several factors contribute to food insecurity, including the rising cost of living, healthcare expenses, lack of affordable housing, and public transportation issues. Often, individuals and families are forced to make difficult choices, like paying rent or medical bills instead of buying food. MIT’s Living Wage calculator currently estimates that a family of four with two working adults needs an annual income of $111,072 to pay for the basic living costs in Chester County which includes expenses such as rent, medical, and childcare.

In contrast, the eligibility threshold for SNAP (food stamps) for a family of four is just $55,512, leaving many households with incomes that fall below the living wage but above the threshold for assistance. Because eligibility for SNAP does not consider local living costs, Feeding America estimates that 50% of the food insecure households in Chester County are ineligible for food assistance because their income is deemed “too high.” When compared to neighboring counties and states, food-insecure Chester County residents are much less likely to receive government assistance making our services in the community more prominent and impactful. As a food bank, we serve a much higher percentage of clients who are unable to receive government assistance when compared to other food banks throughout the country.

For those who do qualify for SNAP, the recent reduction in SNAP benefits has left devastating effects. As of March 1, 2023, Pennsylvania households lost an average of $181 per month in SNAP benefits. This has caused an unimaginable financial strain on many local households leading to increased demand in our food pantries and cupboards. We have been working closely with our agency partners to ensure they have enough food to meet this demand. CCFB continues to procure foods strategically and make the most of our purchasing power to ensure enough food is provided to this new wave of pantry visitors.

These challenges highlight the urgent need for action to combat food insecurity in our community.

Hunger Action Month

September is Hunger Action Month, a time when communities across the nation come together to raise awareness about food insecurity and take meaningful actions to combat it. During this month, we are reminded of the critical importance of addressing hunger in our community.

Chester County Food Bank is proud to be an active participant in Hunger Action Month. Join us for a community effort to collect 10,000 pounds of donated food in September for Hunger Action Month. We are hosting a Drive-Thru Food Drive on Saturday, September 16, from 9:00am to Noon at our location in Exton (650 Pennsylvania Dr, in the Eagleview Corporate Center). Not able to join us for the drive-thru collection? You can drop of donations Monday – Friday 8:00 am – 5:00pm at our location in Exton.

In Chester County, food insecurity is a complex issue that affects individuals from all walks of life. While the county may be known for its affluence, the stark reality is that many residents face uncertainty about their next meal. The Chester County Food Bank stands as a pillar of support, dedicated to ensuring access to real, healthy food for all.

As we move forward, we invite you to join us in our mission, not just during September but throughout the year. Together, we can create a food-secure community where every resident is ensured reliable access to nourishing food. Through education, advocacy, and community engagement, Together – we can make Chester County a place where food security is a reality for everyone, all year round.

The Chester County Food Bank is the central hunger relief organization serving more than 160 food cupboards, meal sites, and social service organizations throughout Chester County. We mobilize our community to ensure access to real, healthy food.