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About the 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

Check Us Out: Stop By Our Open House March 24

We are excited to welcome you to visit us on Saturday, March 24, 2018,  at the Chester County Food Bank’s Open House. We always love the opportunity to connect with those in our surrounding neighborhoods and towns to share the work that we do in Chester County. Whether you’ve volunteered with us before or are just curious about what a Food Bank looks like, all are invited.

This fun and interactive event runs from 10 a.m. until noon at 650 Pennsylvania Drive in Exton. Visitors will have the chance to tour our 36,000 square-foot facility, meet our wonderful staff and some of our agency partners and get information about volunteering. The Open House is free to attend, and food donations are appreciated.

 

Of course, we’ll also have food-related activities for those who stop by! Our farmers and some of our farm partners will be here for a meet and greet. Our friends from the Eagleview Farmers Market will be set up for a special Saturday market with seasonal, locally grown produce and artisan crafted foods to purchase. Market shoppers will be able to enjoy the acoustic music while perusing the Open House. You’ll be able to check out the Fresh2You Mobile Market, and while it won’t be operating as a market, the team will be in attendance with plenty of information about this season and its work to bring fresh food into more communities.

Additionally, our raised bed garden team will be doing demonstrations and The Crafty Chef (a local cooking academy) will be facilitating a kids’ activity in our commercial kitchen. There will be other activities for kids as well, including a garden activity, learning about bees and decorating kindness boxes for our Senior Food program.

We hope to see you on March 24 (10a – Noon) at our Open House!

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

Meet a Volunteer: Sarah Walls

Here at the Chester County Food Bank, we are so blessed to have a dedicated, passionate group of volunteers who help us continue our mission of addressing food insecurity in our communities. We enjoy introducing you to some of the folks that give generously of their time and energy to the Food Bank — we honestly couldn’t do what we do without them.

One of our long-term volunteers is Sarah Walls, a Downingtown resident who spends two to three days a week (plus one Friday each month) volunteering at CCFB. Five years ago, Sarah retired from her job as a technical administrator for the engineering department of MEI in West Goshen. After taking her first few months of retirement to clean her house from top to bottom, repaint her kitchen and tackle “all the things you can’t find time to do when you work,” Sarah began looking for other ways to spend her time.

“I’ve always had the desire since I was in my early 30s to help people who find themselves short of food,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to be able to retire and work in that area, which is what I did.”

She spent some time during her first year of retirement volunteering at Lord’s Pantry of Downingtown and has been coming to us for the past four years. Sarah’s administrative skills are put to great use: She works at the front desk, fills out spreadsheets and answers the phones.

She finds the work — and the work environment — fulfilling.

“I love being here; I love being able to be a part of helping someone who’s in need,” she said. “What I especially like is that people here are like a family. Everyone cares for each other and supports each other. They treat the volunteers like family; they know you by name, they know about things going on in your life, they’re there to support you. To them, it’s more than a job, so to the volunteers, it’s more than just volunteering.”

Sarah has taken her passion for helping people even further, and two and a half years ago, helped to start a small food cupboard at her church, Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in West Chester. All of its food comes from CCFB and is used mostly for people in emergency situations. “But,” Sarah said, “we try to connect them with one of the local food cupboards if they’re having ongoing problems.” For 2018, Sarah says she’s looking for even more ways to get involved in fighting food insecurity and hunger in her community!

When asked where her passion around these issues comes from, she looked to her family. She grew up in West Bradford as 1 of 13 on a working farm. Even though the family was so large, she says her mother would always help people in need. “I think it’s hereditary … all my brothers and sisters work in areas where they’re helping people, and it’s even going down to the next generation! A lot of my nieces and nephews are in social work and fields like that,” she noted.

Sarah says that volunteering at CCFB has taught her a lot about how our entire system works, from how the food comes in to how it’s distributed and all the paperwork in between. She’s also seen up close how our community partners like Wegmans give resources that make a difference, especially in emergencies. “On the outside, you don’t see how it works, but it’s a whole process that we go through to make sure that nobody goes hungry. There are so many little things that go on that the Food Bank does that people don’t know about,” she said.

But her favorite part has been learning about how to get people connected to where they need to be. On the second Friday of each month, she does outreach work, signing people up for CCFB’s Senior Food Box program.

“It’s more than giving out food, it’s encouraging people and learning more about them so you can help make their situation the best it can be. This all comes from the training I get from the Food Bank; it teaches you how to look, watch and listen,” she said. “That kind of stuff gets me more out in the community, which is where I want to be.”

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 take a steadfast approach to provide food and build support in the neediest communities, while raising awareness and engagement among our community.

Emily Kovach

Photos: Chester County Food Bank

Say Farewell to 2017 with a Year-End Deduction to Chester County Food Bank

Before we close the books on 2017, take the opportunity to squeeze in another tax deduction by making a donation to Chester County Food Bank. No matter the size, your gift helps us to continue our mission of ending hunger insecurity for our neighbors in Chester County.

By donating to the food bank, you can help to provide nutritious, healthy food to our hungry neighbors. This year, our generous donors enabled us to distribute nearly 2.7 million pounds of food and feed more than 50,000 people in Chester County. Monetary gifts also help us to continue the important work of providing nutrition education to kids and adults, growing our Raised Bed Gardens program and delivering food to our most vulnerable citizens through Meals on Wheels and Senior Food Boxes for the elderly, as well as supplying weekend backpacks and summer food boxes to school-aged children.

Looking back at the amazing year we’ve had, we’re inspired by donors like the communities that organize around the annual Diwali Food Drive, which has brought us 116,521 pounds of food in the past 5 years. We’re also thankful for business partners like Wegmans and its Care About Hunger campaign and honored to have community partners like Mogreena, a community garden which participates in our Raised Bed Gardens program and is one of the host sites of our Fresh2You Mobile Market.

Please consider joining our community of generous donors and help us continue to pursue our mission in 2018. While we often turn our attention to ways we can help our neighbors in need during the holidays, the truth is that they can use a helping hand all throughout the year. You can donate by year’s end in a number of ways:

Thank you for considering the Chester County Food Bank when making a last-minute, tax-deductible donation. Here’s to a safe and healthy 2018!

Emily Kovach

Photos, top to bottom: Ed Williams; Balaji Studios; Ed Williams; Scott Clay

EatFresh a Success! Looking Into 2018

The end of the year is always a great time for reflection — a time to look back on the successes and struggles across the calendar and make plans for the year ahead. As 2017 draws to a close, here at the Chester County Food Bank, we’re taking time to consider the progress of our community program, EatFresh.

This educational/hands-on initiative offers cooking and nutrition classes for youth and adults who are at risk of food insecurity. Over the course of six weeks, participants learn and practice cooking skills, as well as how to select healthy recipes and get their hands on fresh produce, whole grains and other healthy staples. At the end of each class, participants can take home the fresh produce from the session to continue the healthy eating at home!

The goal: By regularly working closely with nutritious ingredients and trying out different cooking techniques, participants will be less wary of trying new things and more likely to integrate healthy cooking and eating choices into everyday life.

In 2017, EatFresh classes were offered at La Comunidad Hispana (LCH) in Kennett Square, as well as ChesPenn Health Services in Coatesville. For the 2017 season, Catie Hargraves, CCFB’s food security initiatives program associate, taught the LCH beginner and advanced classes, and Heather Leach, a community member who assists with both our EatFresh and Fresh2You programs, taught both sessions at ChesPenn. The classes were offered in a bilingual fashion, with English and Spanish recipes and handouts provided for participants at both locations.

At the end of each of our six-week EatFresh sessions, we surveyed the participants to see if the progress we see among them each week translates to tangible changes outside of the classroom. It’s always exciting to see significant results from these surveys, especially as we’re wrapping up the year and preparing for next year. One participant at ChesPenn said, “I had a personal goal to change my eating habits for health reason, and EatFresh helped me to meet that goal this year.” Check out some of the recent results and see the success for yourself!

Our post survey showed:

  • 95 percent of EatFresh participants tried a new fruit or vegetable through their class experience.
  • After the EatFresh classes, 20 percent more participants said they always think about healthy food choices when deciding what to feed their families.
  • EatFresh classes resulted in a 17 percent increase in participant confidence when it came to helping their families eat healthier.
  • There was a 13 percent increase in participants adjusting the recipes they make at home to include more fruits and veggies.
  • When focus group participants responded to a question asking for suggestions to improve the program, all responses included a call for classes to be held more often!

 

As we look to 2018, we hope to add more classes and keep spreading the joys of healthy food and nutritious home cooking to more children and adults!

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 take a steadfast approach to provide food and build support in the neediest communities, while raising awareness and engagement among our community.

Emily Kovach

Get the Latest Chester County Food Bank News This Friday on WCHE

Exciting news: Our marketing and communications manager, Anne Shuniak, is going to make a guest appearance on the radio this Friday! Anne will be featured on the weekly show “Eat, Drink and Dish” on WCHE 1520 AM. This community-minded program, hosted by Mary Bigham of The Town Dish, covers topics related to the regional culinary scene, ranging from interviews with local chefs and brewers to in-depth conversations with food-related nonprofits like the Chester County Food Bank. The show airs every Friday from 12:15–1 p.m, and this Friday, November 10, Anne will be on at the top of the show.

Anne is uniquely positioned at CCFB to update you on what’s going on around the food bank. Tune in to get an insider’s perspective on the ins and outs of the holiday season, which are a busy and important time of year for us and those we serve. Here’s a sneak preview of some of the topics she’ll be discussing:

  • Common needs for the population the we serve: As you can imagine, the winter holidays can present extremely stressful and emotionally fraught situations for families who are facing food insecurity. We serve many types of people, ranging from parents with small children to senior citizens. Different types of households have different needs, but one thing is for sure: Hunger never takes a break, and we double down on efforts to make sure that our neighbors in need have enough in their cupboards for everyday meals, as well as bigger holiday gatherings.
  • November 11 and 18 Thanksgiving Food DrivesCCFB will be open from 9:30–11 a.m. on the next two Saturdays of the month. Our goal is encourage the community to bring in some of the food items that are most needed this time of year: canned fruit (in juice), canned chicken and/or tuna, canned tomatoes and tomato sauce, pasta and rice, instant potatoes and healthy cereals. Anne will go over all the details for how, when and where you can deliver your donations.
  • Other ways to get involved this holiday season: Giving monetary donationsvolunteering and hosting a food drive are just some of the ways for CCFB’s supporters to lend a hand not just during the holidays, but all year long! Anne will share suggestions for ways you can help those struggling with food insecurity in Chester County to enjoy the holidays.

So this Friday, November 10, at 12:15 p.m., turn your radio dial to WCHE 1520 AM to catch Anne Shuniak on “Eat, Drink and Dish!” You can go old school and listen on your actual radio, or live stream the show here. Each week’s episode is also saved for seven days on the podcast section of the WCHE website, which is convenient if you aren’t able to listen live, or want to share the show with a friend.

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 take a steadfast approach to provide food and build support in the neediest communities, while raising awareness and engagement among our community.

Emily Kovach

Photos, top to bottom: Pexels; Ed Williams (next two photos); Pexels

Keeping Chester County’s Kids Fed with Weekend Backpacks

We have a saying around here that goes, “Hunger never takes a break.” The statement is simple, but true: this basic human need affects people of all demographics. But food insecurity is a particularly pressing issue for our most vulnerable neighbors—children and seniors—who often rely on others to take care of them. Nearly 14,000 children in Chester County qualify for free or reduced price lunches through the National School Lunch Program and the National School Breakfast Program. It is a huge help to children and their families that meals during school are provided, but that doesn’t help to address the weekend. Hunger definitely doesn’t take a break just because it’s a Saturday or Sunday.

This realization was the impetus behind our Weekend Backpack program, a food distribution initiative that brings nutritious foods to children at school every Friday. Using a rotating variety of shelf-stable foods that are purchased by the Food Bank, volunteers pack resealable bags for local children, and these bags are put into backpacks of qualifying students at schools and after-school programs. The bags are filled with easy-to-prepare foods like macaroni and cheese, canned tuna and peanut butter, and help make sure that families have enough to eat during the weekends.

The students who take the backpacks home are those eligible for free or reduced meals, and also, at the discretion of school officials, those who aren’t eligible for the school meal subsidy programs, but may be facing crises or ongoing problems at home that make food scarce. From November 1, 2016, through June 1, 2017, our Backpack program distributed approximately 121,391 pounds of food to children throughout Chester County.

One of the schools that is part of our Weekend Backpack program is the Chester County Family Academy (CCFA), an elementary charter school in West Chester (also one of the sites of our Fresh2You Mobile Market!). This year, CCFA has 110 students coming from West Chester, Coatesville, Downingtown, Great Valley and Kennett Square. About half of the students are ESL students, and approximately 97 percent qualify as economically disadvantaged.

“Basically, our whole school is at risk for social, emotional and financial challenges,” said the school’s CEO, Susan Flynn. “Because our students qualify under the free and reduced lunch program, we provide breakfast, lunch and snacks for our students, but what happens on the weekends? When they come to us on Monday morning, you can see them waiting for their breakfasts.”

For the past four years, the Chester County Food Bank has been delivering weekend backpacks on Fridays to students at CCFA. Susan says she can really see the importance of the program and the difference it’s been making to her students. “We’re only kindergarten through second grade, and you see the kids carrying home these packs that are five or six pounds! Our children feel fulfilled by this; they feel strong because they’re carrying these backpacks and because they’re taking on this responsibility of helping to provide food to their families,” she said.

Susan also notes that every family in the school is offered a weekend backpack, so none of the students feel different or singled out. She says that she and the other teachers never emphasize being worried about the kids or their families, or hunger issues—they simply try to make the experience exciting and special.

“We make sure they know they need to bring their special backpack back on Monday, and the children get excited because there’s always something in there for them and for their families!” she said.

Susan reports that the families appreciate and need the food, and are aware that CCFB is the organization behind the backpacks. The program helps to take a huge burden off many of these families. “They know their children will be fed,” Susan explained. “And this is so important, because if you’re not being fed, you don’t have energy and you can’t learn.”

Want to learn more? Sign 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 request 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, healthful food.

Emily Kovach

Photos: Chester County Family Academy