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Banquet to be held March 26 to kick off Hunger No More campaign in Southern Schuylkill area

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Every day there are people who come to school and work hungry.

In Schuylkill County, it’s more than one in 10 people, according to Helping Harvest, which operates the food bank that serves Schuylkill and Berks counties.

That rate is even higher for children in the county, said Hannah Burke, a Blue Mountain High School senior who serves as Food and Agriculture Director for Jefferson Grange #1384.

“I think that the pandemic has brought a lot of social issues like food insecurity to the forefront of people’s minds. Over the past two years the need to access food has been amplified as food banks all across the country have seen an increase of people relying on their services for food,” said Burke, noting comments from officials at Helping Harvest that indicated a more than 50 percent overall increase in use of their service since the beginning of 2020.

As a way to raise awareness of food insecurity and a call to action, Burke called on Jefferson Grange #1384 to host an event that will bring together county, municipal and school board leaders, clergy, various service organizations and others.

The kickoff dinner is scheduled for March 26 at 6 p.m. at Grace Evangelical Congregation Church in Schuylkill Haven. It will include speakers and local food security facts and an “immersive hunger experience,” said Rachel Brobst, President of Jefferson Grange.

Burke said she was inspired by the Oxfam Hunger Banquet model, which asks people to consider how poverty impacts food security and the prevalence of hunger locally and globally. A Borlaug Scholar, Burke said she learned about the Oxfam model through communication she received as part of that program.

“The Grange immediately agreed and has helped this grow from a one-time awareness event into an entire campaign, called South Schuylkill Hunger No More,” Burke said.

The ultimate goal of the event is not just to have people learn more about local needs, Brobst said, but to spur action.

“We are asking southern Schuylkill governments, school districts and agencies serving our area to pledge some sort of action, be it finding a space for a community garden, reviewing ordinances that may restrict individuals from producing their own food, finding a place to establish a food pantry in their area or hosting regular food distribution event,” Brobst said. “Really, we’re asking for each player to take a small part in eliminating hunger here.”

Burke said the initial guest list was created with a focus on elected officials, and invitations have been sent to municipal and school offices. Now, the Grange is opening the experience up to others interested in food security.

“There are a limited number of seats available for others who wish to attend and become actively involved in reducing hunger in Schuylkill County,” Brobst said.

RSVPs are requested by no later than Thursday, March 24. To RSVP, individuals can email or call Secretary Amanda Brozana Rios at 301-943-1090. The event is free.

Burke said she hopes those who take part in the event will become more receptive to ideas or initiatives citizens, organizations and agencies provide to tackle food security issues.

“We’re hoping to set the stage so these leaders can better understand the need and respond accordingly,” Brobst said, noting that while this event is focused on the area where Jefferson Grange operates, she hopes the Grange may be able to partner with another organization to expand its reach.

As part of the South Schuylkill Hunger No More campaign, the Grange hopes to host follow-up events where new approaches to eliminating hunger can be discussed, and leaders can exchange ideas and information about what is working in their communities.

“I hope that this event inspires everyday people and community leaders to step up to the plate when it comes to hunger in their communities,” Burke said. “There are a lot of different ways that people can come together to reduce hunger such as starting community gardens and community fridges.”

Burke said the Grange is compiling a list of resources for individuals facing food security to access including dates, times and places of local food distribution, and more. This information will be placed on the Jefferson Grange website, and a brochure or other document will be created.

Anyone who wishes to add information about local food resources can send details to the Grange by email or to Jefferson Grange #1384, c/o 1509 Red Dale Road, Orwigsburg, PA 17961. Details should include name/type of resource, location, dates and times, information about what is typically offered at the facility or event, details on what is required to receive assistance such as photo ID, and contact information.

Beyond Schuylkill County

Burke and two other youth members of Jefferson Grange – Torie and Abigail Konkus – are heading to the nation’s capital as part of the National Grange Washington DC Experience, where they will learn more about becoming advocates and participate in leadership development training.

Torie Konkus has time scheduled with congressional staff to talk about the need to review and reform the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that contains guidelines for school lunches.

Konkus said many students, especially athletes like her, find the amount of food and calories provided in school meals are not enough.

Burke will speak to legislative staff about the need to for funding agriculture research and education in K-12 and college for all students.

Intergenerational approach

Burke has focused on a variety of food issues and worked to raise awareness about food access, knowledge about growing your own food and more. She is the founder of the Schuylkill Haven Community Garden, now a project of VISION.

“She’s a great example of who we want as part of our fraternal organization,” Brobst said. “She’s bright and dedicated and cares about the well-being of others. We hope other youth consider joining us so we can support their efforts and help them grow to their greatest potential.”

Brozana Rios of Orwigsburg, who serves as the National Grange Membership and Leadership Development Director, said the Grange’s intergenerational nature allows “cross-pollination of ideas and mentorship across ages.”

“Our young members both learn, teach and lead. They’re growing and they’re helping us focus our efforts on things that matter to them as well,” Rios said. “Hannah is just one example. We also have high-school age students who are taking the lead for pieces of an Adult Prom on April 9, which will raise money for suicide prevention and outreach in our county.”

To learn more about Jefferson Grange, go to or email

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