Hunger Hero addresses food insecurity at Honey Brook Food Pantry dinner

Dr. Hans Kersten speaks at the Honey Brook Food Pantry’s fundraiser dinner on April 29.
Dr. Hans Kersten speaks at the Honey Brook Food Pantry’s fundraiser dinner on April 29. Carol Quaintance — Digital First Media
Randy and Debbie Blough at the Honey Brook Food Pantry’s fundraiser dinner on April 29.
Randy and Debbie Blough at the Honey Brook Food Pantry’s fundraiser dinner on April 29. Carol Quaintance — Digital First Media

“Hunger is invisible,” said Dr. Hans Kersten, M.D., on April 29 to a crowd of 150 people at the Forks of the Brandywine Church in Chester County.

Dr. Kersten of St. Christopher’s Hospital was the speaker during the Honey Brook Food Pantry’s fundraiser dinner held to support the pantry and update the public on their work.

Pastor Will Smith offered the dinner prayer, prior to which, he said, “There is a connection between scripture and those in need. The Lord calls for all people to see in themselves their own brokenness and need for Him. We provide support to the food pantry to learn and be a blessing and a help. These people have a heart for others that are broken and poor.”

After dinner, a client, a mother of eight shared her story. “I was in an abusive relationship and seven months pregnant when my baby’s father walked out on us. There are flaws in the child support system and it’s a struggle. We always run out of food stamps and the children are hungry.”

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She talked about her experiences at the Honey Brook Food Pantry.

“This experience has been amazing. The volunteers take an interest in me. I never feel judged or looked down on. There is always milk, eggs, cheese, bread, staples, condiments, and a large meat item like a turkey or roast even when it’s not Thanksgiving. Also, kid’s treats, desserts, cakes, muffins and outside are my favorite fresh fruits and vegetables.”

“I love the cooking demonstrations given by Maureen and Julia. They teach us to make healthy meals with items available that week. They give out recipe cards and samples,” she said, “Randy and Debbie Blough along with Ken run the Free Market outside with clothes, toys, furniture, and more. It’s like Christmas when they deliver.”

With a heart for single moms and a desire to share the spirit of giving and what she has learned, she is now volunteering at a food pantry and moving to independence by taking college courses.

She spoke with a tenderness and much gratitude for not only the food but for the people, “It is astounding. It is not forever, just to get you through a difficult time.”

“She is very courageous to talk about her food insecurity,” Dr. Kersten told the Tri County Record during the event. “It really is invisible since anyone can have it and there is such a stigma about it. She is a hero for talking about it and going to the next level by going back to school and serving meals for others who are in need. She has come full circle.”

Dr. Kersten, a professor of pediatrics at Drexel University College of Medicine, a pediatrician and Medical Director of the Grow Clinic and leader of hunger-free initiatives at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in the Philadelphia region, said, “Food insecurity impacts the poor developmentally and they are most likely to wind up in the Emergency Room and hospitalized. Poor school age children have more anxiety and teenagers have more suicide attempts,” he said, “Only 10-20 percent of what we do impacts their health. The rest is social, environmental and genetics.”

Kersten, known as a Tenet Hunger Hero, working with the administration, has assembled a multidisciplinary team of community partners, social workers, lawyers and supportive faculty to address complex issues of these children’s lives. They have a lawyer in the medical clinic who mediates socio-economic issues such as domestic violence, landlord/tenant issues, children’s SSI, and many other things.

“It’s invisible yet profound. It is not detected like the children in Africa with protruding bellies. The hungry can be skinny, average or overweight,” he said. “You can walk out onto the streets of Philly to a food desert or a swamp of carbohydrates and fast food chains with no grocery stores like when we were young.”

He oversees Farm to Families/FreshRX at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, which supplies North Philly families and local hospital staff with weekly boxes of local, organic fresh produce.

“I am able to write a prescription for a family or individual food box in my exam room based on my screening and evaluation with no income restrictions. The produce comes from Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative, a collective of 100 organic farmers in Lancaster County.”

He is not reinventing the wheel, just growing by sharing his work and reaching out to others to help one child at a time. For information call 215-427-GROW (4769), or visit www.stchristophershospital.com/our-services/grow-clinic.

Also during the event, Honey Brook Food Pantry Board Chairman Kenneth R. Ross provided an update about the pantry.

“Serving people at 150 percent of the poverty level we distribute over a quarter of a million dollars in food a year, either donated or bought at a discount. We are expanding operations for the 4th year often serving 800 people a month,” said Kenneth R. Ross, Board Chairman of the Honey Brook Food Pantry. “The best barometer of need is that nearly 40 percent of Twin Valley School children are eligible for subsidized lunch.”

“So far, this year we have seen dramatic increases over the first quarter of 2017 in virtually every statistical category including 90 percent more new families, which in an area of this size, is quite surprising and does continue to demonstrate the need that exists. Families with children account for 48 percent of the households served,” said Ross, “First quarter we served 165 families with more than 5 members, that’s 38 percent more than last year.”

The Children’s Back Pack Program is underway again this year with more than 80 kids now receiving weekend food assistance and more than 350 children to receive summer food boxes.

“Our Garden for Life growing program is expanding in 2017 to include 16 families from three local housing communities. They grow their own vegetables for their family and some neighbors,” said Ross.

Ross wished to thank all who donated and attended and his team Becky Zeeger and his wife Annette (Hostesses and Room and Table Designers); Kevin Zeeger (Room set-up); Patti Frank (Menu and Catering coordination) and Jack Williams (Slideshow producer).

For information about Honey Brook Food Pantry call 610-291-0067 or visit www.honeybrookfoodpantry.org. For information call 215-427-GROW or visit www.stchristophershospital.com/our-services/grow-clinic.