HARRISBURG — Empty shelves have become a common sight at stores as people stock up on supplies during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Wolf Administration is bracing for an increase in people applying for food assistance and unemployment benefits as businesses temporarily close.

But officials stress Pennsylvania is not facing a food shortage.

Grocery stores and food production companies are essential businesses under Gov. Tom Wolf’s statewide shutdown order and will remain open.

Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said people need to be more measured in their food shopping.

“The unnecessary panic buying, emptying of shelves is causing serious supply chain challenges for the retail stores, our regional food banks and the local food pantries,” Redding said.

He warns if people continue to buy more than they normally need, that will put a strain on nonprofit food organizations that rely on commercial partners for donations.

As an increasing number of Pennsylvanians face layoffs and uncertainty, he said they are turning to food banks to feed their families.

“As a result, there is not enough food at the ready for regional food banks to easily ramp up and serve the rapidly-increasing need,” Redding said.

The state has launched an emergency Feeding Taskforce to identify resources and provide food and water to communities in need. It is asking businesses to fill out an online survey if they have resources. Individuals who are now facing food insecurity can respond to a separate survey.

The Department of Human Services has also applied for a federal waiver to ensure nutrition assistance benefits continue for people who can’t submit paperwork during the coronavirus crisis.

Chris Brady is managing editor at The Standard-Journal and can be reached at chris@standard-journal.com.

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