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Fighting food insecurity and food intolerance

A food drive on Wednesday in Luzerne County took on two problems facing many people in our area—food insecurity and food intolerance.

KINGSTON, Pa. — Car after car lined up outside the Al Beech West Side Food Pantry in Kingston for a food distribution. Pantry President Clancy Harrison says this is nothing like the distributions before the pandemic.

"It's a little bit different now. We try to cater to the needs of our guests, but we've increased from 150 to 2,000, so it's a big learning curve and a lot of pivoting," Harrison said.

With that large increase in guests to the pantry comes a higher demand for foods that cater to people with food allergies.

"Crazy increase in food insecurity right now. And amongst them are food intolerance folks, and they need food that works for their body," said Kate Scarlata, a registered dietitian and New York Times bestselling author with years of digestive health experience.

Scarlata stopped by the distribution on an east coast tour to learn more about the need for allergy-free foods at food pantries.

"Particularly to help people with the intersection of food insecurity and food intolerance, food intolerance impacts one in five individuals. And many of these individuals can't tolerate beans, wheat, onion, garlic. They may require a diet, such as a gluten-free diet for celiac disease or a low-FODMAP diet for IBS. And so I want to raise awareness for pantries and people that donate to pantries that we need to get these foods at pantries for people living with food intolerance," Scarlata said.

The pantry says it has a lot of guests who have strict diets and can't eat some of the typical foods often donated, but organizers hope a visit and campaign like Scarlata's will help with their overall mission.

"Hidden hunger is in every zip code. It lives behind nice doors of homes. It isn't that you play soccer against your child. It's in wherever you play, pray, breathe, eat. Food insecurity is around you. It's in your organization where you work. So I think if we can have more people like Kate, who's working in her scope of practice and bringing awareness to food insecurity within that area. That's how we're truly going to fight hidden hunger," Harrison added.

You can learn more about Kate Scarlata's work on her website by clicking here.

For updates from the Al Beech/West Side Food Pantry, visit its Facebook page.