(Steve Buissinne / Pixabay)

As the nation marks Hunger Action Month, an archdiocesan ministry is teaming up with Catholic school students to combat food insecurity.

On Sept. 8, Nutritional Development Services (NDS) launched its annual “Peanut Butter and Jelly (PB&J) Drive” in conjunction with 119 elementary, 17 secondary, and four special education schools in the five-county area.

With classes resuming, NDS is encouraging faculty, staff, students and their families to collect jars of the lunchroom staples in a socially distanced, drop-and-go format.

In addition, participants can donate online by purchasing the items through the You Give Goods charity platform.

The PB&J effort, which will run from now through Oct. 23, will help stock NDS’s network of more than 50 food cupboards throughout the five-county area – a number of which have seen client volume increase by 100% due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

An estimated 54 million people in the U.S., 18 million of them children, may now be food insecure due to the pandemic, according to Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger relief organization.

In Pennsylvania alone, some 1.5 million face food insecurity, which is defined as a lack of consistent access to sustenance for an active, healthy lifestyle.

Federal nutrition programs such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (nutrition assistance for women, infants and children) assist millions annually. However, many in need are ineligible for such benefits, since low-income employment keeps them just above the poverty line while they remain malnourished.

Studies show that food insecurity has long-term consequences on health, leading to higher incidences of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. In children, chronic hunger can result in asthma and anemia, while delaying development and triggering behavioral problems.

In his message for last year’s observance of World Food Day, Pope Francis decried the current “cruel, unjust and paradoxical reality” in which “there is food for everyone and yet not everyone has access to it.”

At the same time, he said, “in some areas of the world food is wasted, discarded and consumed in excess.”

Quoting his encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis said that redressing the imbalance requires “economic institutions and social initiatives which can give the poor regular access to basic resources.”

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For more information on the PB&J food drive or for information on coordinating a collection, contact Denise Hopkins, administrator of the NDS Community Food Program, at 215-895-3470 ext. 77823 or dhopkins@ndsarch.org