Community Members Discuss Local Food Insecurity During Pandemic

Erik Smith '22, Contributing Writer

In the midst of extraordinary circumstances that have changed all aspects of people’s lives, food providers provided insight on how they are helping people access one of their most basic needs.

The Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues hosted a virtual panel of three commentators who work at different levels of the food supply chain in the Carlisle area to discuss how they are responding to the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Production and distribution at both the commercial and nonprofit levels were addressed.

Student project manager Erin Lowe ‘22 introduced the panelists and the topic to the audience. Lowe reflected on the widespread nature of food insecurity, which affects one in nine American adults, drawing from her own experiences volunteering with food assistance programs from a young age. She said , “People are food insecure everywhere we look.”

Jenn Halpin, Director of the Dickinson College Farm, spoke on how the farm is adapting to these changes. Typically, she said, the farm functions as a revenue-generating entity of the college, with staffing assistance serving as the primary line of assistance from Dickinson. The farm also supports roughly 130 families in the Dickinson community with food assistance and makes donations to Project SHARE, helping address food insecurity through these outlets.

As a result of students leaving campus for the remainder of the semester, Halpin said that the farm has been forced to go from approximately 18 regular workers to just five. Those remaining “are not really sharing space,” Halpin said, in accordance with guidelines set by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Department of Agriculture, although the farm itself is still active. Curbside pickup for farm products is now being offered.

Robert Weed ‘80, Chief Executive Officer of Project SHARE, discussed COVID-19’s impact on the organization. Project SHARE is a faith-based food pantry serving the greater Carlisle area with a mission of “nourishing our community and awakening hope”,  Weed said. In addition to distributing food, they usually provide educational and social enrichment activities. “It’s much more than just putting food in the basket,” Weed said.

Project SHARE has had changes at every level as a result of the current pandemic. Many of their usual volunteers, Weed noted, are at high risk if they contract COVID-19, but many recently laid off workers have come to fill their roles. The organization’s client base has also expanded as a result of many normal income sources being cut off, as well as many families worrying more about food security in this time of widespread insecurity. In order to protect staff, volunteers, and clients amid rapidly changing circumstances, Project SHARE has had to adapt rapidly.

There have been some silver linings to the situation. For example, Project SHARE has begun livestreaming its popular community-building Kids in the Kitchen class, and while the streams only draw in about a dozen people, their recordings, posted on Project SHARE’s website, have reached over a hundred. This adaptation has brought the reach of this particular program up a great deal, leading to thankful sentiments at the organization. “I am blessed because I have a very creative and resourceful team,” Weed said. .

Andrea Karns, vice president of marketing and sales at Karns Quality Foods, shared how the pandemic has impacted her family’s grocery store, which has nine locations in the Harrisburg area. “Everyone’s lives have been turned upside down,” she said, underscoring the importance that a feeling of security brings to people in such a time of crisis. She encouraged people not to panic despite seemingly sparse aisles in stores. “We’re not going to have a food shortage,” Karns said. However, food suppliers have had to focus their production on their highest-selling “core products” in order to meet demand, resulting in a reduction in variety of flavors, brands, and sizes. Furthermore, Karns said, grocery stores are facing an unprecedented rise in demand due to a drastic reduction in meals being prepared and eaten outside the home.

Despite these challenges, Karns said that her stores have committed to increased sanitation and social distancing measures to protect their employees and customers. At the heart of these efforts is a recognition of the struggle everyone faces as a result of the pandemic. “I think it’s important that people recognize that it’s okay to be scared, and those people that are checking you out or stocking the shelves, they’re aware of that,” Karns said.

“Food in a Time of Crisis” was hosted by the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues and took place via Zoom at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 7.