How United Way Combats Hunger in Berks County

No one should go hungry – access to food is a basic human need. The partnerships between United Way and our Agency Partners create a range of resources to help combat hunger in our community. According to Ashley Chambers, United Way’s Sr. Vice President of Community Impact, “The pandemic has highlighted the need for food in Berks and the need hasn’t slowed.”

We are thankful to the partnership we have with Helping Harvest and their contribution of more than 8.2 million pounds of food to many of our Agency Partners and their food pantry services. These numbers are significantly higher now than in previous years. Agencies like New Journey Community Outreach, Boyertown Area Multi-Service, Jewish Family Services, Olivet Boys and Girls Club, and several others have provided food to nearly 58,000 Berks Countians who have a food crisis. Chambers said, “With the residual effects of the pandemic and now the rise in costs of living, there are people utilizing food pantry services that have never used them in the past.”

Making sure children throughout our community have access to food is a priority.  According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Food and Nutrition Division, approximately 50% of Berks County elementary school students qualify for free/reduced lunches; meaning, their family is living in, or close to, poverty. Agencies like Family Promise, Mary’s Shelter, and Helping Harvest provide healthy food choices to help nourish our kids. Helping Harvest’s Weekender Program provides nearly 2,000 bags of food for kids to take home for the weekend. “The Weekender program is important because it provides food to kids at the most vulnerable schools, and we are glad our Big Cheese event partners with this program,” Chambers said.

Our Big Cheese event, on June 17, is another way we fight hunger. This event brings 500 volunteers together to assemble 250,000 nutritionally-fortified mac and cheese meals for those who need it most. Chambers shared, “The Big Cheese is a unique opportunity for us to address food insecurities in our community.” She continued, “It is exciting to bring volunteers together to accomplish this.” We are excited that so many Berks Countians want to join us in the work we are doing to reduce food insecurity. This was evident when filled all 500 volunteer slots in 30 minutes!

You can learn more about our upcoming Big Cheese event here.