COMMENTARY BY LT. GOV. MIKE STACK AND MIKE BRUBAKER | Lancaster Online, September 21, 2016

While serving in the Pennsylvania Senate, we shared both the same first name and an intense commitment to ending hunger, although not the same party. We have different jobs now but still believe that hunger is a 100-percent solvable problem.

Hunger haunts 1.8 million Pennsylvanians — a third of them children. It impacts every part of our state, hitting rural, suburban and urban communities without discrimination. Republican and Democratic families alike experience the dread of having too little food in the fridge and too many days until the next paycheck.

The fight against the scourge of rumbling stomachs and the shame of not having enough is and must be nonpartisan. Hunger harms our children, hurts our seniors and stresses our families. It is a community problem with huge economic consequences — the costs of hunger are estimated to exceed $1 billion annually in Pennsylvania.

During this Hunger Action Month, we want to share some good news from the past year, accomplishments that could only happen by working together.

The current state budget, proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, and passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, increased by 4.1 percent the funding for the State Food Purchase Program, a unique emergency food program that provides cash grants to counties for the purchase of food for low-income individuals. This $18.2 million expenditure, a drop in the bucket that is the $31.6 billion the commonwealth will spend this year, alleviates stress on local food banks struggling to keep up ever growing demand.

Through the good work of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding, this year’s budget for the first time funded the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System, a win-win program that puts healthy food grown by Pennsylvania farmers and crafted by Pennsylvania producers into the charitable food system in all 67 counties through the Feeding Pennsylvania network of 3,000 partner food pantries, soup kitchens, day care centers and older adult programs.

Allocations of $1 million each for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 are providing a helpful infusion that is bringing more of Pennsylvania’s nutritious bounty to the tables of thousands of families in need.

Our state also got a boost from PA Preferred, Gov. Wolf’s promotional program, which helps consumers find and buy products grown, made or processed by nearly 2,000 participating Pennsylvania businesses. Central Pennsylvania food pantries were given 3,150 reusable PA Preferred bags; every time one is used, one PA Preferred food item is included at no additional cost.

A food security summit was convened by Gov. Wolf, with six of our state’s administrative agencies cooperating to a remarkable degree with leading farmers, food banks, food assistance policy groups and public officials to examine how better to address the causes of hunger and alleviate its symptoms.

The resulting “Blueprint for a Hunger-Free Pennsylvania,” issued Wednesday, will surely be a game-changer for how the many strands of help available to the poor can be woven together to weave a stronger safety net.

Here in Lancaster, through the ground-breaking work of Hunger-Free Lancaster County, a broad coalition of business, faith-based, school, nonprofit and public-sector organizations, the county is well on its way to meeting its bold goal of ensuring sustainable access to three healthy meals a day for every Lancastrian by 2018 — a first-in-the-nation aspiration.

A few examples of this group’s accomplishments this year include:

— A remarkable 194,917 additional school breakfasts were served in Lancaster County in the 2015-16 school year for a total of 2,042,193, with many schools adopting effective alternative and kid-friendly strategies such “Breakfast After the Bell” breakfast smoothies or “Grab and Go” kiosks.

— In Lancaster, 20,482 more meals were served this summer over the prior year and kids ate healthy meals at 42 sites around the county, five more than last year.

— The Power Packs Project sent home over 20,000 quarts of fresh milk as part of its innovative weekend food program.

— The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank grew by 28 percent the amount of fresh produce, dairy and protein it distributed in Lancaster, a whopping 1,597,024 pounds of wholesome food.

— And the Lutheran Camping Corporation of Central Pennsylvania established a 40-acre Growing Project at the Wittel Farm Retreat in Elizabethtown, dedicated to growing fresh vegetables to donate to the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and the Lancaster County Council of Churches. Using all volunteer labor, the group hopes to harvest 13,400 pounds of produce, enough for 11,166 meals.

— The United Way of Lancaster County has expanded its innovative online volunteer management system to help recruit and organize hundreds of volunteers.

We urge all Pennsylvanians to jump into this fight feet first. We want to see you donate, volunteer, lead and innovate. Together, we can and will beat hunger in Pennsylvania. Politics has no place in this fight.

Mike Stack is lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania. Mike Brubaker is chief executive officer of Blackford Ventures, LLC, a national private equity and real estate firm based in Lancaster County. He founded the Pennsylvania Legislative Hunger Caucus and currently serves as chair of Hunger-Free Lancaster County.