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Inquirer Editorial: An advocate for the hungry

In this land of plenty, it seems unfathomable that across the Philadelphia region thousands of people feel the sting of hunger pains every day. But it's true.

In this land of plenty, it seems unfathomable that across the Philadelphia region thousands of people feel the sting of hunger pains every day. But it's true.

In the cities and in an affluent suburban communities, there is not enough food to go around.

This region is home to some of the most pervasive poverty in the country, made worse by a sluggish economy in which jobs are scarce and government benefits to bridge the gap are even harder to come by.

Feeding the needy for decades, STEVEANNA WYNN stands out among the dedicated antihunger advocates who work tirelessly to provide to those less fortunate. Wynn runs the SHARE Program, which provides food for as many as 500 Philadelphia neighborhood pantries that serve low-income residents.

"It makes me angry that we're still trying to figure out how to feed people," Wynn, 66, said in a recent interview.

It is for her more than 20 years of commitment and dedication that the Editorial Board has named Wynn The Inquirer's 2012 Citizen of the Year.

The breadth of the regional need is staggering, with more people facing the threat of hunger and turning to food cupboards, many for the first time. Last year, 26,000 new households sought assistance from a pantry. As of June, 223,000 households visited a food pantry, compared to 54,370 in 2004.

Wynn's mission is simple: to provide healthy and affordable food to everyone who needs it, a commendable but daunting task in a city where one out of four families experiences "food insecurity," or not enough food. "The need is tremendous," Wynn said.

She oversees a massive operation in Hunting Park that includes nine full-time employees, four part-timers, and 2,500 volunteers who manage a state-of-the art urban farm and warehouse.

Wynn takes a hands-on approach, preferring to stack food from a perch atop a purple forklift than spend valuable time on administrative duties. The impact is impressive.

Last year, SHARE distributed 15 million pounds of food throughout the city, including 6,000 pounds produced at the farm.

Wynn also disburses free commodity foods from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and she manages half the $4.5 million the state earmarked for the city to feed the needy.

Sandy Sherman, director of nutrition education for the Food Trust, a nonprofit that provides healthy food to communities, recently described Wynn as "a giant in the field."

Wynn, divorced and the mother of a grown son, grew up mostly poor on a farm in Narrows, Va. She eventually made her way to Philadelphia, and currently resides in East Falls.

Advocates say her Southern charm blended with acquired Philly street smarts has enabled Wynn to vociferously battle bureacrats in Harrisburg or patiently work alongside homeless volunteers in the warehouse.

A recent devout convert to Catholicsm, Wynn said her religious beliefs and upbringing motivate her to try to make a difference. "It's the right thing to do," she says simply.

Her job may be made more difficult if Congress carries out threats to cut billions from food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Pennsylvania, too, has slashed funding for programs that feed the poor. Gov. Corbett's administration added an asset test for SNAP, making it harder to qualify for benefits.

Wynn acknowledges that much remains to be done so that no one goes hungry. She has no plans to give up any time soon.

"It's not acceptable for people in our country not to have food," she said. "Somehow we have to level the playing field."