Grant helps Pennsylvania food bank support community during pandemic

Food banks across the country are working to fill an urgent and increased need due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a Feeding America 2020 survey, 98% of food banks reported an increase in demand for food assistance compared to this time last year — and nearly 40% of those being served are receiving help for the first time.

The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank (CPFB), an affiliate of the Feeding America network, serves 27 counties across central Pennsylvania. The food bank is stretching every dollar in order to support those they serve. Prior to the pandemic, the CPFB supported 135,000 people struggling with food insecurity per month. That number increased nearly 50% to 200,000 individuals per month, according to the organization. 

To help fill this gap, CPFB received two grants, totaling $125,000, from UnitedHealthcare.

The first grant helps support the CPFB’s Health Innovations work, including educating health systems on the importance of screening for food insecurity, building a referral system to connect individuals to resources and developing a toolkit for providers to better assess and address patients in need. For example, CPFB developed a pilot program to provide medically tailored food boxes for patients with chronic conditions, as part of their disease management plan. 

The grant started in January and proved to be a vital component of the organization’s efforts to support individuals during the pandemic. The grant helped the food bank build partnerships with providers and health systems, which later served as emergency food distribution sites. 

“The funding we received from UnitedHealthcare was critical to helping us quickly scale up our food distribution work in the beginning of the pandemic in response to the heightened need,” said CPFB Executive Director Joe Arthur. 

The second grant helped the food bank, in collaboration with partner agencies, distribute nearly 200,000 crisis food response boxes during the pandemic. Each is filled with a combination of healthy, shelf-stable food, produce, milk and meats. 

“The crisis response boxes not only help reduce the cost burden of buying groceries for families,” Joe said, “but the pre-packaged boxes limit the amount of time clients spend with frontline workers and staff.”

The funding is part of UnitedHealthcare’s $12.3 million in Empowering Health grants across 21 states, focused on expanding access to care and addressing the social determinants of health for those in underserved communities. 

“So many families in our area continue to face an uncertain financial future and we are committed to making sure that everyone has enough nutritious food to stay healthy,” Joe said. “Life-sustaining gifts, like the one from UnitedHealthcare, will help ensure that no family is hungry through this crisis and beyond.”