For many, facing food insecurity can make them feel ashamed and reluctant to seek help, but Center County food donation organizations would say otherwise.
According to the Feeding America website, the total population of food insecurity in Center County reached 13,660 in 2020.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, food insecurity is defined as the lack of access to adequate food “for an active, healthy life.”
Mihee Woo, supervisor of a doctoral clinic at the Dr. Edwin L. Herr Clinic, said she believes consistent access to food is closely linked to a student’s level of well-being.
“When I think of that triangle – food, safety and health… if [those needs] If not met, that can be quite challenging,” Woo said.
Allayn Beck, executive director of the State College Food Bank, said she believes food insecurity often forces people to make difficult financial choices.
“When you’re trying to figure out whether to feed your kids or pay your bills, it’s really hard to be,” Beck said.
There are additional challenges associated with food insecurity, such as its effect on a person’s mental health, said Nancy Valverde, a clinic supervisor at the Herr Clinic.
“If you can’t meet your basic needs, it becomes so difficult to take care of your mental health,” Valverde said.
The process of asking for help involves “a lot of stress and a lot of embarrassment,” said Jay Odum, a hotline counselor at Center Helps.
“Some clients feel they don’t deserve help, but the resources are there for them,” Odum said.
For Beck, she said it can be difficult to get help for some people at first, but there are resources to help.
“Taking that first step is the hardest step,” Beck said. “It doesn’t matter the situation – we’re here to help.”
There are multiple resources within the community that help people dealing with food insecurity, the clinicians said.
Webster’s Bookstore and Cafe offers free weekly meals on Wednesdays, and the Lion’s Pantry offers meals to students with valid Penn State IDs.
The State College Food Bank “provides supplemental food for about one to two weeks, and people can get food every 30 days,” Beck said.
To use the State College Food Bank, Odum said, people must fill out a “referral” at Center Helps, which can be done over the phone.
For those who feel they are taking resources from others, Beck said, “There is enough for everyone. We are here and we are ready to help everyone.”
Community food security resources emphasize the importance of support during difficult times, Valverde said.
“Having community and not feeling isolated in your lowest times to support you, not having to face something like that” [food insecurity] alone, is the most important thing,” said Valverde.
Helping people with food insecurity doesn’t just mean giving people the food they need, Odum said.
“As easy as it is for you to pack a lunch and give it to them, it’s so much harder for them to take it,” Odum said.
People and agencies dealing with food insecurity and related student poverty should play a “mentally supportive role,” Odum said.
“You’re not alone, and it can be scary,” Odum said. “You are having a hard time right now. It’s scary, and that’s okay.”
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