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Submitted January 13, 2022

Martin Luther King, Jr. described poverty as one of the most urgent items on the agenda of modern life, along with racial injustice and war. In his 1964 Nobel Lecture: The Quest for Peace and Justice, he said, “We cannot be content to see men hungry, to see men victimized with starvation and ill health when we have the means to help them.” He was talking about the “social and economic gulf between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ of the world.”

The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank addresses hunger by appealing to the ‘haves’ in our community to share with the ‘have nots.” We leverage the generosity of central Pennsylvanians to buy, collect, and distribute millions of pounds of food to our neighbors needing a helping hand. We are truly thankful for the generosity of the donors, volunteers, and partners making this mission possible.

While emergency food assistance is important and necessary; we believe it is not enough to provide a temporary fix. We cannot be content to see men and women merely “fed” when we as a society have the means to change the reasons why they are hungry.

Racial injustice and poverty are intertwined. Nationwide in 2020, food insecurity among Black, non-Hispanic households was more than three-times as high as food insecurity among white, non-Hispanic households – 21.7% compared to 7.1%. Food insecurity among Hispanic households was 17.2%. Black households are much more likely to fall into the very low food security category at 8.0%, compared to 3.0% of white households. (USDA).

The Drexel University Center for Hunger-Free Communities found people with experiences of discrimination in school, hiring, at work, in public settings and in interactions with law enforcement show statistically significant associations with household food insecurity. These experiences can have a big impact on opportunities for economic security. Never was this more apparent then during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We believe if the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank is going to achieve our Bold Goal to provide access to enough nutritious food for everyone struggling with hunger in each of the 27 counties we serve, then we must acknowledge and help to address the underlying inequalities caused by the longstanding economic and social disadvantages of systemic racism. To do that, we must first learn more about our neighbors who have these experiences, empathize with them, respect and humanize them, and ensure we are providing the food resources they need to be productive members of our society.

As a proud citizen and as a leader, I love the USA, and I believe that to continue to honor the call in our Constitution to “form a more perfect union,” we must face some hard truths about racism.

We must recognize the existence and harmful impact of white supremacy culture. As a white man enjoying his 59th winter in comfort, I must personally bear witness to my own privilege. Although I grew up in coal country in a family of modest means with plenty of challenges, I did not face obstacles due to the color of my skin or my gender.

When I applied for jobs, my English-sounding name did not raise alarms, and my resume at least made it to the “maybe” stack.  When my wife and I married 36 years ago, no law stood in our way. Whenever I sat in job or loan interviews, the person across the desk almost always looked something like I do now. When my white children began to drive, I worried about their skills, but never that they would be profiled or mistreated by law enforcement. My privilege is evident to me now, even if it wasn’t just a few short years ago.

As I reflect on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and how much more needs to be done to achieve his dream, I am thankful to work with an amazing Board of Directors, Leadership Team, and EDI Team as we prioritize equity, diversity, and inclusion in our Food Bank’s mission. We are not issuing boilerplate policies and checking boxes; we are doing hard cultural work. We have pledged to fight racism as a mission imperative. I personally pledge to use my privilege in this necessary fight.

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Joe Arthur, Executive Director of Central Pennsylvania Food Bank

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The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed in this letter to the editor do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of NorthcentralPa.com

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