‘Up significantly from last year’: Delaware County sees rise in food insecurity

A Share Food Program worker is seen carrying boxes

A Share Food Program worker is seen carrying boxes. (Courtesy of Share Food Program)

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The problems brought by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic continue to have a domino effect on Delaware County.

Delco residents need more help with food and mental health services than they did before the pandemic.

“I’m sure you can imagine that with the fact that everything — whether it’s heating cost or food costs or housing costs, gas — with everything increasing generally, our paychecks don’t rise,” said Joanne Craig, chief impact officer of the Foundation for Delaware County.

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Craig said with Delco residents paying more of their budgets to make sure that they can heat their homes or keep roofs over their heads, they’re being forced to take money away from something else that they may have budgeted for.

As a result, many folks are caught in an impossible situation and need to seek resources from elsewhere to stay afloat. The Foundation outlined this need in its annual report.

Ellie Crowell, the Delaware County program director for Share Food Program, said data from their affiliated food pantries show huge increases in visitors from 2021 to 2022 “across every metric.”

“One of the most marked increases we saw was the number of new individuals,” Crowell said. They saw over 18,000 new people between July and September — a 68% increase compared to the same three-month period the year before.

And in October and November of this year, Share saw the highest numbers of individuals — 16,523 and 16,794, respectively — at Delco food pantries it has seen since the organization began serving the county.

Crowell said social programs that provided a lot of relief at the start of the pandemic are spreading around less relief.

“There was a huge rent relief program in Delaware County. Also, there were increased benefits through SNAP, depending on how many kids there were in the family,” Crowell said. “And so I think, yeah, we’re just seeing less support for these families in general, which means folks are back in the position even more so now of choosing: Do I pay for rent? Do I pay for food? Do I favor medical bills? How do I manage all of these different costs that I have?”

Inflation and the rising cost of food have made the situation even worse. On top of that, Share Food Program has seen a 50% reduction in the amount of food it receives from the federal government since the summer of 2021.

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Nevertheless, Jess Bautista, the director of communications and external relations at Share Food Program, said the organization is consistently looking for ways to meet the growing need.

The Foundation for Delaware County is also seeing huge gaps in access to mental health services, especially for those expecting children.

“The challenges that we have seen are a lack of availability of services. There is a long, long, long waitlist for those needing services for pregnant moms or postpartum mothers. The cultural diversity is not expected to be there. We have a large population of people who are Spanish speaking in the county, and there’s not enough therapists who are bilingual and bicultural,” said Carolina Alshon, the social service coordinator with the foundation.

Alshon said it is impacting not only the health of the parent, but also the health and the mental health of their kids.

Delaware County isn’t alone in experiencing problems with food insecurity and access to mental health services. Bautista, of Share Food Program, said their affiliated food pantries in Montgomery County and Philadelphia are also seeing more people.

Kelly Cofrancisco, a spokesperson for Montgomery County, said the county Office of Community Connections has received 813 requests for food assistance as of Dec. 15.  In 2021, those requests totaled just 281.

Montgomery County’s Community Connections program can help link residents to a program that meets their needs, and the six brick-and-mortar Community Behavioral Health Centers offer mental health assessments, treatment, and medication management.

Jim O’Malley, a spokesperson for Bucks County, said while county officials aren’t seeing an increased need for mental health services, they are seeing an increase in food insecurity.

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