Westmoreland County Food Bank Continues to Strive to End Hunger Here at Home
In 2007, the Westmoreland County Food Bank (WCFB) conducted a Gap Study which determined that there were 40,000 people who qualified for but were not receiving food-assistance. This was in addition to the 15,000 already being served by WCFB. After extensive research and planning, the WCFB Board of Directors agreed to align with Feeding America’s Strategic Plan for outreach and expansion throughout Westmoreland County. The focus of this strategy was to find new food, new funds, and new friends to assist in reaching the underserved while maintaining quality service for current consumers.
Early in the project’s planning stage, The United Way of Westmoreland County partnered with WCFB to provide funds for staff support for the project. Jeannette, Penn, Harrison City, and Grapeville were selected as target areas for the pilot project in 2009 and 2010. During that time frame, 395 new households were enrolled in the WCFB Food Pantry Distribution Program through the four Jeannette pantry sites. In 2011 and 2012, WCFB worked in the Mt. Pleasant/Scottdale areas and an additional 425 households were added to pantry rolls there.
In 2013 and 2014, the New Kensington area was the point of focus for the Outreach and Expansion area. “Our work in the New Kensington area was very successful,” stated WCFB Director of Agency Services, Texie Waddell. “We have a fantastic group of volunteers all over the county, but the eight New Kensington coordinators were very receptive to assistance in streamlining operations and helping make the pantries more accessible to those in need.”
Over 573 new households were enrolled in New Kensington from January 2013 through September 2014. Other activities that took place as part of the project included public screenings of “A Place at the Table” where approximately 60 interested residents participated, at which time a SNAP Challenge activity was held. Presentations were held at the Penn State New Kensington Campus in the Spring and Fall of 2014, along with a Poverty Summit with an interactive Poverty Simulation at the Fall session.
A new initiative was also presented in New Kensington called the Super Cupboard program. Through a joint effort between Penn State Nutrition Links and Westmoreland County Food Bank, the Super Cupboard Program is being offered to families with children under the age of 20 at various locations throughout Westmoreland County. The Super Cupboard concept is simple, to educate frequent users of emergency food services using a combination of food assistance, nutrition education, food preparation, and basic living skills. Super Cupboards offer a learning environment where participants can feel acceptance and support.
Each 5 week program consists of a series of lessons and activities on various topics to help participants feed their families on a limited budget. Emphasis is placed on learning how to prepare low-cost, quick meals, developing new cooking and food safety skills and trying new nutritious foods. Participants are then able to take home the supplies to prepare the meals at home for their families. Food sampling, also through Penn State Nutrition Links, was available at the New Kensington pantries, as well as SNAP application assistance when requested.
As we begin a new year, WCFB will move outreach/expansion efforts to the Mon Valley area of Westmoreland County (2015-2016). The focus areas will include Monessen and Belle Vernon (15062 and 15012 zip codes), which currently have three food pantries in operation. Mrs. Waddell is currently assessing pantries to insure that they can handle an increase in people seeking food-assistance. In addition, outreach activities such as direct mailings will be sent toward income-eligible households in the Mon Valley. WCFB also hopes to disseminate information about the project through the local school districts.
“We want to raise awareness of the Food Bank and its services,” said Waddell. “We want people to be aware of the income guidelines for eligibility and where the pantry sites are located. Families may be eligible for help and not even know it.” WCFB will be working on developing partnerships through the community to assist in raising awareness and help to increase volunteers at the pantries as participation increases at these sites.
Clearly, there is no immunity to hunger. It affects us all, especially in today’s economic climate. It’s times like these that make WCFB so important to so many people. WCFB is here to provide a helping hand to those in need, whenever they need it and gratefully welcomes the support of all those willing to help their neighbors. WCFB staff is also available to speak to groups and organizations interested in the work that will be done in the Mon Valley. Please contact Texie Waddell at 724.468.8660 extension 20 or email her at email@example.com.
Finally, in communities like ours, it’s not uncommon to find citizens on both sides of a food pantry counter during their lives. So whether you need help, or want to help, the Westmoreland County Food Bank is there for you. For more information about the Westmoreland County Food Bank please visit their web site at www.westmorelandfoodbank.org.
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