After over a year of data collection, the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank released its 2023 Lebanon County Community Hunger Mapping report on Jan. 18.

The report is the first of its kind to paint a detailed picture of hunger and the charitable food system in Lebanon County.

In addition to laying out data from sources including the USDA, WIC, neighbor surveys, and more, the report also includes the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank’s recommendations for local nonprofits and representatives.

In the county as a whole, 9.8 percent of the population experiences food insecurity and 9.7 percent have visited a food pantry in the last year, the data found.

“Both food insecurity and the charitable food system impact a significant portion of the Lebanon County population,” explained Central Pennsylvania Food Bank senior policy research manager Zach Zook at a presentation Jan. 18. “It’s critically important that we work together to ensure that our operations as a charitable food system, but also all stakeholders interested in this work, can reduce this number over time.”

Zach Zook addresses the audience during a presentation at the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 18. (Emily Bixler)

However, the City of Lebanon, West Lebanon, Palmyra, East Hanover, and Myerstown have higher rates of food insecurity than the county as a whole.

2020 Food Insecurity Rate, graphic from report. Food insecurity within the county is highest concentrated in a few areas including the City of Lebanon.

“It’s very important that as a county we work to target these areas of high food insecurity,” said Zook. “We will have the most return on our investment, reaching more than half of individuals by just targeting 25 percent of the population.”

Children also have a higher rate of food insecurity than adults, with 14.4 percent of Lebanon county youth experiencing food insecurity in 2020.

2020 Food Insecurity Rates overall and 2020 Child Food Insecurity Rates of Lebanon and surrounding counties, graphic from report. Child Food Insecurity in Lebanon is higher than the overall rate of food insecurity.

However, that number dropped to the 10.4 percent, the lowest on record in Lebanon County, in 2021 as the result of the expanded child tax credit.

Lebanon County Food Insecurity By Age Group Over Time, graphic from report. The rate of child food insecurity dropped in 2021 largely due to the expanded child tax credit.

When the tax credit ended, however, child food insecurity rose nationally by 25 percent, which is likely also reflected in Lebanon, Zook said.

“Unfortunately, the gains have been reversed,” he said. “However, the expanded child tax credit shows that we can have sustained targeted investments that make a real difference in food insecurity rates over time.”

Food Security Status by Household Type, graphic from report. Households with children, the report says, have the highest rate of very low food security among different household types.

Those facing food insecurity in Lebanon can apply for SNAP benefits or, in the case of pregnant women or women with infants or young children, WIC services, or they can obtain food at pantries throughout the county.

SNAP participation among pantry visitor households, graphic from report. The report suggests pantries and other stakeholders should work to increase awareness of SNAP, particularly in those who are eligible but are not participants.

The Community Health Council has compiled a list of these locations, as well as their hours, here.

The report notes that of Lebanon County pantry visitors, many experienced varied level of food insecurity including needing to skip meals. Some, Zook said, reported that if not for the pantries they would be skipping meals at least monthly.

Food Security Measure Underlying Questions: Percent of Respondents Responding Affirmatively, graphic from report.

“Folks who visited the charitable food system more than 12 times in the last year experience very low food security at rates close to 45 percent lower than folks who visit the charitable food system 12 times or less in the last year,” said Zook.

The report emphasizes that most pantries allow those in need to visit twice a month, praising this.

However, the report also suggests various changes to the charitable food services: improving neighbor experiences (including by expanding food options), building on best practices (such as evening hours), and work on making pantries accessible for more people (through transportation and outreach).

Number of Minutes to Receive Food Services after Arriving at the Pantry, graphic from report. The report suggests that pantries should make changes to reduce wait times for neighbors, particularly early morning wait times to get the best selection of foods.

“We found that one third of households who screen positive for food insecurity did not know how or where to find food pantry services,” said Laura Whitaker Escobar of the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank.

Laura Whitaker Escobar addresses the audience during a presentation at the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 18. (Photo by Emily Bixler)

While compiling the report, Zook says his team has been in contact with local nonprofits and sharing data, and some changes are already in the works.

“Stakeholders across the county have already started to make some amazing changes as a result of some of our findings,” he said. “This was because we consulted with stakeholders throughout this entire process.”

The full data is available here (PDF) and a summary is available on the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank’s website.

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Emily Bixler was born and raised in Lebanon and now reports on local government. In her free time, she enjoys playing piano and going for hikes.


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