“He has filled the Hungry with good things…” – Luke 1:53 – Larry D. Herrold Jr.
“What’s that?” a little girl, no more than eight years old, asked me as she and her younger sister approached our produce stand on a hot August day two years ago. The girl pointed to some peppers and tomatoes, and indicated she did not know them or their use. They then proudly presented their lunch for the day, beef jerky and soda purchased at the local gas station. Nutritional education, and the means to afford healthy and natural foods, was absent. The mission of Zion Lutheran Church’s community garden was always to feed those in need, but in that moment it was evident that the solution to food insecurity in the Susquehanna Valley runs deeper than charity. Education and advocacy for public policy reform in our churches, schools, and the wider community are essential.
Food insecurity is a statewide issue in Pennsylvania. According to data released by the US Department of Labor, before the COVID-19 pandemic, over 1.53 million Pennsylvanians suffered from “chronic hunger”. The figure includes 478,500 “older citizens” and 437,000 children. That number has only grown since the pandemic, with 1/5 of the state’s workers filing for government assistance. Food banks cannot keep up with the demand, with 65% flagging a need for additional community support.1 The ELCA has long sought to alleviate and eliminate the systemic societal issues that perpetuate hunger. In the church’s 1999 social statement on economic life, and the 2007 statement on education, the faithful are called to support school-age children in not only attaining healthy food, but also having the nutritional education and economic support to thrive during and after their schooling.2
When we recognize that Pennsylvania’s food insecurity, especially involving children, is significantly impacted by broader economic and educational disparities, the need for faith-based advocacy going beyond charity is apparent. While the work of parish gardens and food banks is laudable, lifting up the individual voices of hunger that we meet at the produce stand, the social hall, or on the street is important work. Through lifelong Christian education, service, and advocacy initiatives, congregations can and must work to fulfil the call of the Gospel to love our neighbors “until all are fed.”
1 About Food Insecurity. Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, www.agriculture.pa.gov/Food_Security/Pages/About-Food-Insecurity.aspx.
2 Economic Life. ELCA.org, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Sept. 1999, www.elca.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Statements/Economic-Life.; Education. ELCA.org, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Nov. 2007, www.elca.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Statements/Education.
Larry D. Herrold Jr. is LAMPa’s ELCA World Hunger Fellow.