About the Food Bank

Get to Know the Chester County Food Bank

Whether you’re a regular visitor to our website or this is your first time here, we want to take a moment to say thank you: for caring about your community, prioritizing food insecurity and giving back to your neighbors in need. We know there are many demands on your time and your dollar — as always, we urge you to keep your giving local whenever possible — and we appreciate your consideration of Chester County Food Bank as a place to donate your resources.

If you are a newer supporter or just need a quick refresher, here’s a little bit of background about CCFB:

 

For nearly a decade, we’ve been a force for positive change in Chester County, addressing the needs of a population that isn’t always visible in one of the wealthiest counties in Pennsylvania. We don’t simply distribute food — we search for ways to make a lasting impact on our community, disrupt the cycles of economic instability, create sustainable systems and empower individuals and families.

Some of the ways we do this are through educational initiatives, such as:

  • Taste It! and Eat Fresh: Taste It! is a series of volunteer-led food demonstrations that give people an opportunity to try new foods, especially fresh produce. Eat Fresh is a series of cooking and nutrition classes for youth and adults at risk for food insecurity. These six-week courses give attendees the tools and confidence to choose and cook healthy food for themselves and their families.
  • FRESHstart Kitchen: This new, 14-week program is designed to educate and prepare low-income residents for opportunities and sustainable employment in the food service industry. Led by two amazing staff members, FRESHstart Kitchen assists individuals with limited work experience and significant personal challenges — including substance abuse and criminal records — and provides self empowerment skills to help address challenges entering or reentering the workforce.
  • Bilingual resources: As we investigate ways to reach all of the diverse communities in Chester County, we’ve added staff members to help with bilingual outreach and translation for Spanish-speaking populations, and partnered with La Comunidad Hispana, a diverse, bilingual Federally Qualified Health Center in southern Chester County. There, we offer Eat Fresh classes and, for some families, the Fruit & Vegetable Prescription (FVRx) program, which distributes prescription vouchers that can be redeemed for fresh produce at CCFB’s mobile Fresh2You truck.

We certainly do collect a lot of food (which makes its way to dozens of community organizations and food pantries in Chester County), both from individual donors and groups, as well as through our own methods of growing fresh produce. Here are a few examples:

  • We grow our own food! CCFB has its own five-acre plot of farm land at Pete’s Produce Farm at Westtown School, a space that Pete Flynn, farmer and longtime friend to the Food Bank, generously donated to CCFB. Our farm, led by a talented and dedicated farming expert with the help of hundreds of volunteers, grows all kinds of veggies, which go right to individuals, families and senior citizens in our community.
  • Our Raised Bed Farm Program, which has a series of gardens at over 110 host sites — such as schools, corporations, senior centers and churches — that harvests enough produce to constitute 33% of the fresh produce that we distribute. In total, between our farm, these garden plots, and our hauls from local produce auctions, we’re able to distribute over one million pounds of fresh produce each year to our member agencies!
  • Of course, we also rely on local food drives for fresh and nonperishable donations. From the folks behind the Diwali Food Drive to our Annual PB&J Drive (a friendly competition that mobilizes hundreds of people to collect jars of peanut butter and jelly donations to help keep Chester County kids fed throughout the summer), we are always amazed at the creative, passionate and generous ways that people are able to organize and combine their talents and time.  

This is just a small taste of all of things Chester County Food Bank is able to do thanks to people like you! But just because the winter holidays have wrapped up doesn’t mean we’re all set for the year. We rely on donors and volunteers year-round to achieve our mission of mobilizing our community to ensure access to real, healthy food. Will you join us in 2019 to help create a healthier Chester County?

Want to learn more? Sign up for our newsletter and stay connected. You can also donate food, funds and time to help us achieve our mission. Call (610) 873-6000 to speak to someone about getting involved or requesting a tour. Thanks to you, we’re growing a healthier community.

The Chester County Food Bank is the central hunger relief organization serving more than 120 food cupboards, meal sites and social service organizations throughout Chester County. We mobilize our community to ensure access to real, healthy food.

Emily Kovach

Photos: Chester County Food Bank

 

 

Don’t Go Hungry: How to Get Help in Chester County

Finding yourself in a position of food insecurity can happen anytime. It’s not pleasant to think about, but an injury, layoff from work, family illness or another unforeseen change can drastically affect your circumstances.

This scenario understandably makes many people feel vulnerable and overwhelmed, and figuring out how and where to ask for help can be a challenge. If you don’t know where to turn, we’re here to help. Chester County Food Bank has made it our mission to help our neighbors in need combat food insecurity by connecting them with programs and resources across the county that can be of assistance. From our Weekend Backpack Program for school-aged children to our Senior Food Boxes, our staff and team of dedicated volunteers work tirelessly to make sure that no one in our community is overlooked.

First, see if you fall within the footprint of our region by visiting the Need Food (blue) button in the upper right of our website. There is an interactive map that illustrates our impact across Chester County. You can look for your community and find a food pantry and hot meal sites. There’s a difference between a food bank, like we are, and the food pantries that actually send clients home with food. So while we aren’t a pick-up site for food, we can connect you with 1 of the 120 local agencies we work with where that service is available. If you’d prefer to speak with someone on the phone, call us at (610) 873-6000 and we’ll help you identify a hunger relief agency that serves your part of town. We also have staff members that speak Spanish.

Once you find a food pantry or cupboard close to your home (usually based on school district lines), you’ll need to gather a few materials to sign up.

To qualify at a food cupboard, a client must:

  • Provide name, date of birth and proof of address.
  • Report total household income (this is a self declaration based on 150 percent of poverty line).

Learn more about this process here.

Outside of food cupboards, there are a number of social service organizations throughout Chester County. Get more info at our Community Partners page about the ways the agencies we work with can help to provide food, shelter, childcare, counseling and other services.

If you do need help beyond food, it’s easy to find human and social service resources in your neighborhood by calling or visiting 2-1-1, a regional social services hotline. To call, simply dial 2-1-1 or (866) 964-7922; the line is open 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and interpreter services are available in more than 140 languages. During this free, confidential call, you’ll be connected with a 2-1-1 Southeastern Pennsylvania information and referral specialist. For assistance in finding social services such as health, basic needs, mental health and drug and alcohol treatment, review the Department of Human Services Community Resource Guide.

We hope this has been a helpful resource for anyone looking for ways to get help. Feel free to call Chester County Food Bank anytime during our operating hours (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) with questions or for further assistance.

Want to learn more? Check out our mission video, sign up for our newsletter and stay connected. You can also donate food, funds and time to help us achieve our mission. Call (610) 873-6000 to speak to someone about getting involved or requesting a tour. Thanks to you, we’re growing a healthier community.

The Chester County Food Bank is the central hunger relief organization serving more than 120 food cupboards, meal sites and social service organizations throughout Chester County. We mobilize our community to ensure access to real, healthy food.

Emily Kovach

Featured photo: Bigstock; all other photos: Chester County Food Bank

Meet the Team: Amy Rossman and Chef Ranney Moran of FRESHstart Kitchen

We’re so excited to introduce you two Chester County Food Bank team members, Amy Rossman and chef Ranney Moran, both of whom are instrumental in our brand-new program FRESHstart Kitchen™ (FRESH is an acronym that stands for Focusing Resources on Employment, Self-Sufficiency and Health). FRESHstart Kitchen is a culinary workforce training and development initiative and launched its inaugural class on September 10, 2018.

FRESHstart’s mission is to assist people from our communities who have limited work experience, modest academic skills and other barriers to steady employment, including substance abuse and criminal records. Throughout the 5-days-per-week, 14-week program, participants will gain life skills, self-awareness, professional development and hands-on culinary training, all with the goal to help them successfully enter or reenter the workforce.

This ambitious and important program would not be possible without the two employees at its helm. Here’s a bit more about Amy and Ranney.

Amy Rossman, Workforce Development Manager

Amy Rossman came to us from a Community Connections program in Montgomery County; before that, she worked for eight years at the Pottstown Cluster of Religious Communities, a food pantry and clothing closet. During that time, she worked with low- to no-income people in her community, and over the years worked her way up to second in command. “I had an opportunity to help people in economic poverty achieve awareness about resources in the community and to empower the people coming into the food pantry to recognize and affirm who they are as people,” she said.

Amy originally came to CCFB to interview for a different position, but as soon as she heard about the workforce development manager position, she knew that job was perfect for her skill set and interests. She started at CCFB in late June 2018. A major part of Amy’s job is running the responsibility and self-empowerment workshops for the FRESHstart participants. “What gets me excited is working with people and really listening to what their journey has been and where they want to be,” she said. “Often when people are living in economic poverty, their voices are not heard, and we can’t learn from them. [I want to help] facilitate all of those moving pieces and the direction in which they want to go, and affirm that journey for them.”

The workshops take place in the morning, and during that time, Amy helps the participants to focus on skills like mock interviewing, creating a resume and cover letter, setting expectations for going out into the job field and journaling to process the lessons and events of the day. The last two weeks of the course are almost entirely devoted to workforce development, as the participants will be just about ready to launch their new careers. Also, Amy points out, once the program wraps up, the participants aren’t left to fend for themselves. “We’ll follow folks for up to two years to track them and see how they’re doing.”

People who are interested in the FRESHstart program may reach out directly to Amy at (610) 873-6000, ext.127. The application process requires completing the application, sending in additional materials like a photo ID and a letter, recommendation or referral and completing an interview and then a two-day trial in CCFB’s kitchen.

Chef Ranney Moran, Director of Culinary Programs

Ranney Moran studied at The French Culinary Institute (now called the International Culinary Center) in New York City, where he graduated in 2012. He worked in Manhattan kitchens for a few years before embarking in 2014 on a 6-month excursion through Southeast Asia, including stops in Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and China. Much of that time was spent traveling and eating, though he got some work in, too, running a pop-up restaurant in Bangkok for a few weeks.

After returning to America, he worked in the Hamptons at The Surf Lodge and then in Woodstock, New York, at The Bear Cafe and Commune Saloon. It was during that time that he first considered the concept of a culinary training program. “Because of the opioid epidemic and rampant addiction in the hospitality industry, I had a really hard time finding qualified staff in Woodstock,” Ranney remembered. “I wanted to use the kitchen as an opportunity not to fire people, but to promote them.” He promoted his dishwasher to prep cook and his prep cook to sous chef, and found that extra attention and responsibility, plus wraparound support like NA meetings, helped people recovering from addiction to maintain sobriety.

During the winter of 2016, when the tourist season died down in Woodstock, Ranney moved back to Philadelphia, where he is originally from. He worked for a bit as a personal chef for some families in Chester County, and in his free time, started volunteering in the kitchen at CCFB. During this time, he’d investigated trying to start a culinary workforce training program, but ran into some barriers, like funding and finding wraparound support. He continued to do research, sometimes traveling to visiting other organizations with similar programs and collecting data. Through his volunteer experience at CCFB, he learned that this exact type of program was part of CCFB’s future growth goals.

“It was the lightbulb moment,” he said. “I saw a great opportunity to create more meals and serve more people. The program has so much personal meaning for me — it’s everything I’ve really ever dreamed of.”

He presented his collected data and research to some of the CCFB in the beginning of 2018, and was hired that February. In the time since then and the program’s September launch, Ranney and some other staffers have visited other programs, like Rhode Island Community Food Bank and DC Central Kitchen, components of which are used as models for FRESHstart Kitchen. Ranney also worked to recruit people for the first FRESHstart cohort, putting up flyers all over the county and meeting with United Way at the Financial Literacy Center, while Amy gave presentations to regional networks. They were able to find 5 suitable applicants to be part of the first FRESHstart group, though they hope to grow it closer to 10 in the future.

Chef Ranney’s day with the students involves a ServSafe Manager course (a food safety certification), culinary theory, recipe reviews, technique discussions and tutorials and daily hands-on work in the kitchen, where each student has their own station with their own burner. “The first thing we cover is the mise en place, which is your clean uniform, your sharp knife, all your ingredients cut the way it needs to be and your station clean and organized,” he explained.

The culinary curriculum covers everything from basic knife skills and hygiene to kitchen safety. Each week revolves around a theme, such as breakfast cookery, stocks, soups and sauces, poultry, fish and meats. Ranney and another chef instructor demonstrate techniques and plating and by the end of each day, each student is expected to be able to put together the same dish.

Weeks 10, 11 and 12 of the program are for internship placements, and Ranney is establishing relationships and partnerships with area restaurants, grocery stores, fish markets and butcher shops, fast casual cafes and large food producers. “Building a network of industry partners, I want to be able to present the students with a list of options,” he said. He says his main hope for the program grads is for them to earn a $15 minimum wage. “I’m hoping they’ll be able to find a job at that level,” he asserted. “I want them to be able advocate for themselves, to know their value and worth.”

Want to learn more? Check out our mission video, sign up for our newsletter and stay connected. You can also donate food, funds and time to help us achieve our mission. Call (610) 873-6000 to speak to someone about getting involved or requesting a tour. Thanks to you, we’re growing a healthier community.

The Chester County Food Bank is the central hunger relief organization serving more than 120 food cupboards, meal sites and social service organizations throughout Chester County. We mobilize our community to ensure access to real, healthy food.

Emily Kovach

Photos: Chester County Food Bank

Meet the Team: Solange Noguera

From maintaining our warehouse to managing our partner farm sites, we rely on our dedicated staff for everything we do at Chester County Food Bank. We would never be able to reach as many of our neighbors in need, and keep everything running smoothly and efficiently, without them!

As the county population continues to grow, we’ve added people to our team staff who can help us connect to and communicate with all of the people that we serve. One of these people is Solange Noguera (she goes by Sol), our bilingual outreach educator, who is instrumental to our work with the Spanish-speaking communities in the county.

Sol began working for CCFB in May 2018. Prior to CCFB, she was a teller at a local federal credit union. She is happy with the career change, and says it’s hard to pick just one thing that she loves about her job at the Food Bank.

“Working for CCFB has been a complete 180 from my other jobs,” she said. “The biggest difference is that I’m actually making a difference in people’s lives. I’m looking out and keeping the communities’ interest in mind, whereas with my other jobs, I was working to help a company or companies that I really did not care about.”

The position, which works with several of CCFB’s programs and initiatives (including Fresh2You and the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program), does include its own set of challenges.

“The challenging aspect of the job is remembering that I am one person and can’t take on a lot of projects,” Sol admitted. “I would love to be able to be in multiple places and do multiple things at once, but I still haven’t figured out how to do that. So for now, I have to focus and give my best to the things I am involved with.”

Through her work with us, CCFB has been able to better accommodate the needs of the Hispanic/Latino population in Chester County, as well as build better relationships with them.

“The amazing part is that there is still so much more room to grow, and I am super excited to be a small part of it,” Sol said.

In the future, Sol anticipates reaching an even bigger immigrant population and setting up programs that will allow them to grow and feel part of the Chester County community.

“I also envision that we will be able to incorporate many more members of the community into our classes and programs (as trainers or facilitators), so that the community is giving back to the community,” she noted.

Outside of work, Sol, who lives in Malvern, enjoys outdoor activities, like hiking the many trails through Chester County, as well as biking and swimming. She also likes being in the kitchen.

“I really enjoy cooking and incorporating veggies I have never used in my plates,” she said. “Most of all, I enjoy doing all these things with family and friends.”

We are grateful to have Sol as a part of the Chester County Food Bank staff, and for her enthusiasm, passion and community-centered mindset. Thanks for being part of our team, Sol!

Want to learn more? Watch our our new mission video, sign up for our newsletter and stay connected. You can also donate food, funds and time to help us achieve our mission. Call (610) 873-6000 to speak to someone about getting involved or requesting a tour. Thanks to you, we’re growing a healthier community.

The Chester County Food Bank is the central hunger relief organization serving more than 120 food cupboards, meal sites and social service organizations throughout Chester County. We mobilize our community to ensure access to real, healthy food.

Emily Kovach

Photos, top to bottom: Chester County Food Bank; Chester County Intermediate Unit; Chester County Food Bank

Meet the Community Partner: La Comunidad Hispana

Here at the Chester County Food Bank, our mission is to end food insecurity in the communities in our county. It’s an ambitious goal — the problem of hunger is a complex one, touching on economics, access to food, nutrition and cooking education, advocacy, legislative policy and so much more. While our organization is going nine years strong and has accomplished so much during that time, we definitely can’t tackle these issues alone. It’s thanks to our strong bonds and relationships with community partners that we’re able to continue reaching our neighbors in need in effective, sustainable ways.

One such community partner is La Comunidad Hispana (LCH), a diverse, bilingual Federally Qualified Health Center in southern Chester County. Its mission is to “change lives by serving southern Chester County as the leading provider of integrated health and community services.” Founded in 1973 by Peggy Harris and Margarita Quiñones with the support of Kennett Square residents, clergy and advocates, LCH set forth to serve the needs of the primarily Latino population who came to the region to find jobs in the mushroom industry. LCH was established as a place where vulnerable adults and families could go for health and medical issues large and small.

Now, more than 40 years later, the committed, passionate team at LCH continues this mission at various sites: its Health and Community Services office and Dental Center in Kennett Square, its Community Health Center in Oxford and its brand-new Women’s Health Center in West Grove. The Women’s Health Center is an exciting new development for LCH; all of its women’s health services will be provided out of this office, and with an additional provider added to the staff, the organization will be able to serve more women than ever.

CCFB’s relationship with LCH began about five years ago, when we started our EatFresh program. During that time, we sought organizations to partner with, specifically health clinics in the county.

“LCH was one of those, and the idea was that they were connecting with food-insecure families whom we believed we could teach some basic healthy cooking options to and also be able to give them some fresh produce at the end of each class,” said Wendy Gaynor, director of Food Security Initiatives at Chester County Food Bank. “It turns out that the people [served by LCH] have a wealth of knowledge surrounding cooking, so what we’re now doing is building community. They’re coming for the produce, for the connection and to have an experience together. They get to come together with other people and enjoy good food.”

We’re still working with LCH on EatFresh, and are pleased to announce that we’re extending our partnership with them to offer the Fruit & Vegetable Prescription (FVRx) program to some of the families there. Families are identified through the clinic and are given “prescriptions,” which are like vouchers that can be redeemed for fresh produce at CCFB’s Fresh2You Truck.

These components of our partnership exemplify just what makes LCH so special. It’s not simply there to administer medical treatment and services — aims to serve the holistic health of the families and individuals it serves. One example of this is LCH’s Family Fitness Program. It piloted this program two years ago, with the support of the Edna G. Kynett Memorial Foundation, and has been such a success, LCH decided to continue it.

“The goal of the program is to provide intensive health interventions for families with children at risk of chronic disease (such as heart disease and diabetes), based on overweight/obese status,” explained LeeAnn Riloff, director of Development at LCH. “We enroll the entire family into the program and over the course of a year, offer them regular clinical check-ins, health education, consultation with a nutritionist, free healthy food bags and fitness equipment and deeply discounted family YMCA memberships.” The families also receive access to LCH’s special programs, including walking/running groups and the FVRx partnership with CCFB. LCH also hosts three raised beds that are part of our Raised Bed Garden Program — these help to supplement the fresh produce CCFB brings to on-site EatFresh classes.

“These food bank programs are critical elements of the program for us,” said LeeAnn. “Our nutritionist can give families advice to eat lots of fruits and vegetables instead of loads of empty carbs, but unless they can access the produce and know how to use it, it isn’t all that useful!”

La Comunidad Hispana is just one of the many community partners we work with, and is such an important resource for the communities of southern Chester County. To learn more about its mission, visit its website and Facebook page.

Want to learn more? Check out our mission video, sign up for our newsletter and stay connected. You can also donate food, funds and time to help us achieve our mission. Call (610) 873-6000 to speak to someone about getting involved or requesting a tour. Thanks to you, we’re growing a healthier community.

The Chester County Food Bank is the central hunger relief organization serving more than 120 food cupboards, meal sites and social service organizations throughout Chester County. We mobilize our community to ensure access to real, healthy food.

Emily Kovach

Featured photo: La Comunidad Hispana; all other photos, top to bottom: La Comunidad Hispana, Chester County Food Bank (next two photos), La Comunidad Hispana

Feeding Families: Local Partnership Strengthens Summer Food Box Program

As we’ve shared before, when school is out, so are free school lunch programs, a resource that many children and families in our community rely on during the academic year.

Although the summer, for many of us, is a time of abundance when it comes to food — think CSAs in full swing, barbecues and parties booking up most weekends, and new restaurants opening with growing frequency — it is a time of scarcity for so many of our neighbors in need.

Chester County Food Bank has worked to address this issue with our Summer Food Box program, which helps school-age children and their families receive nutritious, easy-to-prepare, nonperishable food during the summer vacation months through their participating member agency or youth center. Packed by volunteers, these boxes make a huge difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable in the county. The way it works is that one box is available for each school-age child in each family and the pick-up times during the summer occur once in July and once in August. The boxes contain all sorts of nonperishable foods such as canned tuna and chicken, milk, cereal, oatmeal packets, fruit, granola bars, pasta, rice, beans, canned fruit and spaghetti sauce.

This summer, we’ve gone even further to provide aid to food-insecure families in our area. By partnering with The Coatesville Youth Initiative (CYI), our Summer Food Box program is stronger than ever. Thanks to generous support from Enterprise, we’re working with CYI, an independent nonprofit working to enact youth-led community change, to provide a cohesive approach to addressing food insecurity, workforce development, youth engagement and community outreach. And after identifying high needs among Chester County’s Hispanic population, we’ve linked with a Migrant Education Program in Jennersville to receive distributions throughout the summer. This will enable us to serve 500 additional students throughout the summer months.

The CYI does so much to help break the cycle of economic inequality: It trains youth leaders, enhances family relationships, encourages prevention education and builds community collaboration. One of its main programs is ServiceCorps, an eight-week summer service/leadership development program for Coatesville-area youth. Now in its ninth year, the program empowers participants to serve and connect with their communities and build life/leadership skills, all while earning summer income.

This summer, four ServiceCorps participants between the ages of 16 and 18 were hired to serve as site coordinators and administer our Summer Food Box program. We saw this as a great opportunity, not just for the participants who receive training and oversight from our staff, but also for us — we utilized the teens’ input on how to best reach and promote the feeding program among other youth with whom we wouldn’t usually have contact. After all, no one can influence a teenager quite like one of their peers, and this strategy will help us reduce and eliminate the stigma of receiving food in these contexts. The ServiceCorps participants have been collecting data, helping to coordinate deliveries and spreading the word to create awareness around our programming. The outcome of this synergy is already apparent, as we have begun to effectively increase reach in this vulnerable community, including newly established “Produce Hubs” that reach youth where they are, like churches and summer camps.

This situation is a resounding “win-win-win” for the ServiceCorps team, Chester County Food Bank outreach and the residents of Coatesville!

Want to learn more? Watch our our new mission video, sign up for our newsletter and stay connected. You can also donate food, funds and time to help us achieve our mission. Call (610) 873-6000 to speak to someone about getting involved or requesting a tour. Thanks to you, we’re growing a healthier community.

The Chester County Food Bank is the central hunger relief organization serving more than 120 food cupboards, meal sites and social service organizations throughout Chester County. We mobilize our community to ensure access to real, healthy food.

Emily Kovach

Photos: Chester County Food Bank

Meet the Team: A Q&A with CCFB Farmer Bill Shick

We’re proud of lots of our accomplishments here at Chester County Food Bank. One thing that we think is pretty special is how much fresh produce we’re able to supply to our neighbors in need across Chester County. Often, when people think “food bank” or “food pantry,” they imagine cans of food and dried goods lining the shelves. Of course, nonperishable items are an essential component of what we provide, but as fresh food is paramount to good nutrition, it’s a remarkable thing that we’re able to distribute over one million pounds of fresh produce each year.

Some of this produce comes from local produce auctions, where our buying power can stretch your donations to incredible lengths. Some comes from the efforts of our Raised Bed Garden Program, which happens each year across 100 growing sites staffed by dedicated volunteers. But what you might not realize is that a large amount of our fresh produce comes from a farm plot, staffed by Bill Shick, CCFB’s Director of Agriculture Program.

Bill works on a five-acre farm plot at Pete’s Produce Farm at Westtown School, a space that Pete Flynn, farmer and longtime friend to the Food Bank, generously donated to CCFB. With the help of hundreds of volunteers, Bill grows all kinds of veggies at the farm, which go right to individuals, families and senior citizens in our community.

Recently, Bill took some time away from his busy schedule out in the fields to chat with us and share a bit more about himself.

When did you start working for CCFB? What did you do before that?

Bill Shick: In March 2013. Before that, I was the urban agriculture and facilities director at the Share Food Program in Philadelphia. I have been farming off and on since 2000, with a few years of environmental consulting thrown in.

What do you love about farming? What can be challenging about it?

I enjoy being outside, physically active, the planning ahead and working toward a goal — and also the frequent instant gratification of fieldwork. I like using my plant and soil science degree and 14 years of farming experience to tackle day-to-day and seasonal challenges on the farm. Every year is different, and that keeps it interesting.

The challenges include long hours, hot weather, the physical toll on your body, insects, diseases, marauding animals and mechanical problems with equipment.

Why do you enjoy working for CCFB? Is it different from other farming jobs that you’ve had?

I enjoy the fact that what we work so hard to grow is going to those who truly need it and appreciate it. Local produce is often expensive and out of reach for many of those with lower incomes. I also enjoy our partnerships with Pete’s, the county park system and the Camphill community in Kimberton. I’m excited to offer volunteers an opportunity to serve their community, meet new people and learn about farming

There are major differences farming for a nonprofit. The biggest is the daily use of mostly unskilled labor rather than an experienced field crew. Volunteers are almost always willing to work in any weather and do any task; they just require training and patience until they get the hang of what they’re doing. The daily interactions with a big cross-section of our community is a great part of the job. Another benefit of farming in partnership with others is that I’m mostly free from worrying about much of the farm infrastructure and maintenance of heavy equipment.

A huge plus that I appreciate daily is the support I receive from my coworkers and volunteers at the Food Bank warehouse and processing kitchen. They handle the storage, inventory, washing, repacking and distribution of everything we grow. This frees me and my field manager up to focus solely on production and allows us to grow significantly more than we could otherwise.

How has your program grown since you started?

We’ve increased the diversity of what we grow and the length of the growing season. We try to keep up with demand for certain crops and work with our agencies and programs to hopefully increase demand for produce. We’ve taken on more land every year at Pete’s Produce, and have made improvements to field and greenhouse operations at Springton Manor.

How do you envision this program growing in the future?

We often think about adding more acreage at a new farm site that we could manage completely on our own. We’d like to build several large high tunnel greenhouses to grow throughout the year. We’d also like to add enough acreage to grow more storage vegetables to help fill our coolers for winter distribution.

We could potentially offer farmer education and training and a small farm “incubator” for aspiring farmers, too.

Where do you live? Any hobbies in your free time?

I enjoy mountain biking, hiking, camping, cross-country skiing, craft breweries and live music. I split my time between Downingtown and Mount Airy in Northwest Philadelphia, where my partner farms.

Thanks for all you do, Bill! Your enthusiasm and expertise are a huge component in the success of our farming program.

Want to learn more? Watch our our new mission video, sign up for our newsletter and stay connected. You can also donate food, funds and time to help us achieve our mission. Call (610) 873-6000 to speak to someone about getting involved or requesting a tour. Thanks to you, we’re growing a healthier community.

The Chester County Food Bank is the central hunger relief organization serving more than 120 food cupboards, meal sites and social service organizations throughout Chester County. We mobilize our community to ensure access to real, healthy food.

Emily Kovach

Photos: Chester County Food Bank

Food Bank & Food Pantry: Is There Really a Difference?

Though we’ve been around for nearly a decade, here at the Chester County Food Bank, we notice that there is still sometimes confusion — even among some of our most dedicated supporters — about exactly what we do and how we differ from food pantries and cupboards. We thought it might be helpful to explain here and define some terminology to help clarify!

Some of the issues come from blurry definitions of the terms “food bank” and “food pantry.” When you think of the archetypal, cultural idea of a food bank, perhaps featured on a holiday episode of a television show, it may be of a family picking up a box of food from a church basement or community center. In fact, that scenario is really taking place at a food pantry (or cupboard), where individuals can go during set hours to obtain food. Usually, these locations are staffed by volunteers, and their mission to simply get food into the hands of those who are in need.

Chester County Food Bank, as our name implies, is a food bank, the hub which provides nutritious items to food cupboards. We are a centralized hunger relief organization, taking in donations from many sources, organizing and storing them in our warehouse and then redistributing items to food pantries, which we refer to as our “member agencies.” While we don’t provide boxes of food directly to individuals, we still encourage anyone who needs food to contact us, as we are more than happy to connect you with the many resources within our county that can help.

Part of our role as a food bank (versus a cupboard) is that we take a strategic, holistic approach to combating food insecurity. Yes, distributing food to local cupboards is part of this, but we go even further, with advocacy and educational initiatives like Taste It! and Eat Fresh, supplemental feeding programs for school-aged children and seniors, emergency response food boxes and our Raised Bed Garden Program, which is part of the reason that we can provide so much fresh food to local cupboards.

While we are affiliated with a number of community partners, we are an independent organization. So if you’re considering donating and you want your dollars to stay in Chester County, please note that we are the only food bank in the county. While we are one of the wealthiest counties in Pennsylvania, there are many, many households in our community without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food at any given time.

We hope this has been a helpful explanation of how we — a food bank — are different from a food pantry. We think of it like this: Chester County Food Bank is the hub in the center of a wheel, and all of the spokes reach out to our member agencies that can connect one-on-one with the neighbors in need in Chester County.

Want to learn more? Watch our our new mission video, sign up for our newsletter and stay connected. You can also donate food, funds and time to help us achieve our mission. Call (610) 873-6000 to speak to someone about getting involved or requesting a tour. Thanks to you, we’re growing a healthier community.

The Chester County Food Bank is the central hunger relief organization serving more than 120 food cupboards, meal sites and social service organizations throughout Chester County. We mobilize our community to ensure access to real, healthy food.

Emily Kovach

Photos: Chester County Food Bank

Meet the Volunteers: Liz and Harry McMunigal

Here at the Chester County Food Bank, we owe so much to the dedicated, passionate group of volunteers who help us continue our mission of addressing food insecurity in our communities. We couldn’t do what we do without them!

We love introducing you to some of these people who generously give their time and energy to the Food Bank — each has their own story to share.

Meet Liz and Harry McMunigal: They are newer to our operation, but have jumped in feet first and are already making a huge impact at the CCFB!

Liz started volunteering with us in September 2017. The couple had recently moved to Downingtown, and as a new retiree, Liz was looking for volunteer opportunities. “As luck would have it, shortly after we moved here, we attended the yearly Open House at the Food Bank and I learned about volunteer opportunities there at that time,” she remembered. A few months later, she signed up to be a backup driver for our Meals on Wheels program. It was through that program that Liz learned about working in the Food Bank’s kitchen, which is where she now spends most of her volunteer time.

Her husband, Harry, says he was also impressed by the Open House, and began volunteering soon after his retirement earlier this year. “I simply thought it was a good cause to do what I could to help serve those with food insecurities,” he said.

Currently, you’ll find Liz working in the kitchen two to three times a week preparing meals for Meals on Wheels recipients, doing prep work for something that is being cooked or baked or plating meals for a future distribution. Occasionally, she’ll also work in the warehouse, doing various tasks from distributing donated food into its categories or packing boxes for distribution to senior citizens or backpacks for school children. “In the summer and fall, there are also many opportunities for bagging up fresh produce to be given out or sold,” she said.

Simple Suppers

Harry spends most of his three-hour shifts working in the warehouse, organizing donated food or preparing food for distribution. “It’s very enjoyable because I work with other volunteers who are very pleasant to work with and committed to helping those in need,” he said.

Liz also reports that the people she works alongside are her favorite part of volunteering at CCFB. “No matter what assignment I have, I’m working with the greatest bunch of people all the time,” she added. “The staff is so impressively dedicated to providing fresh and healthy food to the underserved communities in the area.”

While neither of them have food backgrounds, they have plenty of work experience in advocacy — both Liz and Harry were attorneys for 35 years!

“As far as my actual work with the Food Bank, I have no previous experience, so I’m starting from scratch and learning a lot!” Liz said. “And my work in the kitchen, under Cheryl’s [Fluharty, contracted kitchen staff at the Food Bank] excellent tutelage, has given me many good cooking tips to bring home!”

Harry says that what he’s picked up from his volunteer experiences is “that you can help others while being encouraged by the staff who, to a person, are very optimistic and conversant about the goals of the Food Bank.”

Their volunteering doesn’t stop at CCFB. Liz recently signed on to be a volunteer through Family Services of Chester County to drive people without transportation access to medical appointments, and still sometimes drive for Meals on Wheels as a substitute driver. Harry also volunteers at one of the food kitchens that the Food Bank in Coatesville serves.

Liz and Harry both encourage anyone who’s considering volunteering at CCFB to give it a try. Liz explained, “The Food Bank is a perfect place to begin the volunteer process, as you can sign on for as little or as many opportunities as you wish, doing a variety of tasks from working in the warehouse or the kitchen to planting or harvesting crops on the farms with whom the Food Bank deals. The facilities are impressive, and as stated earlier, the people are so dedicated and are fantastic to work with, and it’s just so much fun!”

Want to learn moreSign up for our newsletter and stay connected. You can also donate foodfunds and time to help us achieve our mission. Call (610) 873-6000 to speak to someone about getting involved or requesting a tour. Thanks to you, we’re growing a healthier community.

The Chester County Food Bank is the central hunger relief organization serving more than 120 food cupboards, meal sites and social service organizations throughout Chester County. We mobilize our community to ensure access to real, healthy food.

Emily Kovach

Photos: Chester County Food Bank

How Far Your $20 Can Go at Chester County Food Bank

What can you do with a $20 bill? Put some gas in your car, take a friend out to a movie, maybe pick up a new book or DVD. One place $20 won’t go very far, we’ve noticed, is the grocery store. Have you ever run into the store just to “buy a few things,” and walked out with a half-full bag and $50 less in your bank account? While the cost of food is lower in the United States than in many countries with similar economies, it can still seem pretty expensive while doing your shopping.

That’s just one of the reasons we’re so proud of our purchasing power at Chester County Food Bank. We take your $20 donation so much further than you could spend it in a supermarket. This is possible through our relationships with local farmers, from whom we buy surplus produce; by pursuing exceptionally priced deals with food wholesalers and by making frequent trips to the Leola Produce Auction, where we scout out the best deals on fruits and veggies that Amish and Mennonite farmers bring in by the truckload.

Take a minute to envision what $20 might purchase at a regular market, and then check out how far your $20 donation could go at Chester County Food Bank:

  • Four weekend backpacks: For many of the 18,000 children in our community who rely on free or reduced-price meals at school, the weekends can be tough. Our Weekend Backpack program combats food insecurity for these kids with nutritious, family-friendly ingredients to keep them fed all weekend long. A typical weekend backpack might contain rice, chicken, oatmeal, milk, trail mix, raisins and cans of fruits and veggies. One $20 bill can provide weekend meals for four kids.
  • 20 boxes of cereal: Can you imagine how much 20 boxes of even the cheapest cereal would run you at the grocery store? Because our buying power and warehouse storage allows us to purchase in bulk, we can get remarkably good deals on dry goods such as cereal. Your $20 donation could purchase 20 boxes of cereal to help feed our neighbors in need.
  • 80 pounds of fresh produce: Chester County Food Bank is able to distribute nearly one million pounds of fresh produce per year. Although our Raised Bed Garden and Farming programs provide us with some of that produce, the majority comes from items that we purchase at auction. The prices at the Leola Produce Auction are so low that, on average, we can buy many fruits and veggies for 25 cents per pound! That means a $20 donation can help us buy 80 pounds of nutrient-packed produce, like fresh broccoli.
  • 80 pounds of rice or dried beans: One of the most economic ways we can stretch $20 is by buying bulk dried beans and grains and then bagging them up into smaller portions. Imagine an 80-pound heap of rice — that’s what your donation could accomplish by allowing us to purchase bulk goods at 25 cents per pound!
  • A complete Thanksgiving dinner for a family: Though we believe every meal is important, holiday meals can add extra pressure for families struggling to make ends meet. For $20, we can provide a full Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings for one family of 6 to 8 people. This includes a whole turkey, potatoes, vegetables, stuffing, cranberry sauce and gravy. For the price of a cheap lunch date, you can provide a memorable Thanksgiving for a hungry family in our community.

Want to learn moreSign up for our newsletter and stay connected. You can also donate foodfunds and time to help us achieve our mission. Call (610) 873-6000 to speak to someone about getting involved or requesting a tour. Thanks to you, we’re growing a healthier community.

The Chester County Food Bank is the central hunger relief organization serving more than 120 food cupboards, meal sites and social service organizations throughout Chester County. We mobilize our community to ensure access to real, healthy food.

Emily Kovach

Photos: Chester County Food Bank