September is Hunger Action Month and officials tasked with helping fill considerable gaps in food insecurity are highlighting the outlets available to help offset the unprecedented need during the COVID-19 pandemic and the continued economic downturn.

According to state officials, Pennsylvania’s food banks typically serve approximately 2.2 million Pennsylvanians annually. In the first three months of the public health crisis, these food banks had more than 5.5 million visits.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, three counties had a food security rate at or above 13 percent. Today, 64 of 67 counties are at least 13 percent food insecure, and 32 counties are at least 16.5 percent food insecure.

More than 2 million Pennsylvanians, including 630,000 children, do not have reliable access to adequate, nutritious meals and live in food insecurity every day, experts say. According to Feeding Pennsylvania, nearly 1 in 20 Pennsylvanians are newly food insecure.

In the Valley, we have seen the need. A series of milk giveaways drew dozens of Valley residents for free milk. Some area food banks are seeing nearly two times as many families than before the March outbreak.

“Throughout the pandemic, our farmers, food processors, retailers and charitable food network have pulled together to keep food on the table for their neighbors across Pennsylvania,” Agriculture Department Deputy Secretary Cheryl Cook said. “These resources are available to those who may have never needed help before. No one in Pennsylvania should go hungry.”

Help is available. Pennsylvanians who need help feeding themselves or their family should find and contact their local food bank or pantry through Feeding Pennsylvania (feedingpa.org) and Hunger-Free Pennsylvania (hungerfreepa.org).

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Pennsylvania, our food banks have seen an incredible increase in the number of clients we serve, many of whom had never found themselves in a food pantry before,” said Jane Clements-Smith, executive director of Feeding Pennsylvania. “The charitable food network continues to work hard to meet the sustained increased demand, but we still need the support of our generous communities across the commonwealth.”

These organizations are always in need of funds and for volunteers. Anyone interested in volunteering can find organizations in need of volunteer support on the United Way of Pennsylvania’s 211 website.

Many of our neighbors need our help. If you can help, find a way.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.

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