It’s Not Too Late to Start Your Container Garden

Gardening can be a wonderful pastime: It provides opportunities to go outdoors, to connect with nature, to work with our hands, and to enjoy the productivity of raising and caring for plants. Edible gardens go one step further, yielding fresh herbs and produce to enjoy from the early spring through late fall. 

We have heard from many people in our communities that they are starting gardens this year, and we think that’s great! While we’re always in favor of gardening, it feels especially relevant these days, as we are all more aware of food insecurity. Plus, many of us have more time on our hands to devote to a garden! 

We’ve begun to field numerous questions about container gardening from our supporters and neighbors  — if you are ready to get your hands dirty, but aren’t quite sure how to get started, you’ve come to the right place! 

Here at Chester County Food Bank we’ve been managing gardens and helping people start new plots through our Raised Bed Garden program for more than 10 years. Our Raised Bed Garden manager, Raina Ainslie, and garden educator Terry Scholl work with host sites for their initial garden set-up and educational support. With their help, our garden partners collectively grow more than 40,000 pounds of fresh vegetables for our partner food cupboards and agencies throughout Chester County!

Photo credit: Raw Pixel

Container gardening is nothing new to us, and we have some tips and resources to help you start or improve your at-home container garden this year:

A great place to start is with our container gardening best-practice guide, created with the input of our amazing gardening staff, folks from the Oregon Food Bank and the experts at PennState Extension. You can print out the handy PDF guide; it covers all of the basics you need, like choosing a container, deciding what to grow and what not to grow, how much to water and fertilize, plus a list of other resources for further reading.

Your next step is to identify the plants you want to grow, and how many containers you have space for. If you don’t have a lot of outdoor space, consider a fire escape, windowsill, or a corner of your back patio. The best thing about container gardens is you don’t need a huge yard — any little patch of sunlight will do!

“Growing in containers is a great option if you have limited space,” Raina says. “Choose quick maturing crops like radish and lettuce, or dwarf varieties of tomatoes.”

Different plants require different planting methods, including how close together to plant the seeds or seedlings. Our team has put together a helpful series of video tutorials to help with this first step of the process. We have 18 tutorials explaining planting of common garden veggies, like spinach, tomatoes, eggplant, carrots and more!   

When it comes to containers you do not need anything fancy, Raina notes. Choose containers that are between 1 and 5 gallon capacity. Small pots restrict the root area and dry out very quickly, so when in doubt, size up. Whatever you use for a container will need drainage holes. Clean buckets, tins and even plastic storage containers can work if you drill or poke a few holes in the bottom for water to flow out. Sanitized kitty litter buckets are the preferred container of many budget-savvy home gardeners! Other items you might recycle, like milk jugs and large yogurt containers can be used to house smaller plants, like herbs. 

When using containers, Raina notes that it’s extra-important to water and fertilize your plants regularly. Because their root systems aren’t connected to the earth below, they rely on you to provide these essential components.

“Containers lose moisture and nutrients quickly. They’ll likely need to be watered every day in the heat of summer,” she says. “When it comes to fertilizers, liquid fish emulsion or liquid seaweed are good to use. Containers should be fertilized once a week after the plant is firmly established.”

Once your garden is planted and flourishing, consider planting to donate to Chester County Food Bank. Providing fresh produce to our neighbors in need is integral to our mission to fight food insecurity in our community, and every little bit helps. Peas, peppers and eggplants are great options to consider, as they travel well and stay fresh for a long time after harvest. You can also donate a bumper crop! If you end up growing way more zucchini, cucumbers, beans or anything else faster than you can eat it, consider bringing that to us, as well! For more information on, and best practices about, donating garden produce, see here.

We hope you feel excited and empowered to start your own container garden! Once you get in the groove, you’ll be amazed at the profound satisfaction that comes from growing your own food, even if it’s just a few containers of herbs, tomatoes and lettuce! Be sure to share your photos on Facebook and Instagram and tag your garden photos with #GetGrowingChesterCounty

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 to 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, healthy food.

Emily Kovach

Featured photo & third photo: Chester County Food Bank

A Note about Volunteering during COVID-19

Updated March 18, 2020 

To our most valued partners – our volunteers:

The Chester County Food Bank, with critical guidance from our health and public safety partners, has made the very difficult decision to stop all volunteer activities through the end of March. We will reassess this decision at the end of the month.

Please monitor our website and social media accounts for changes. As we learn more about the spread of COVID-19 in our area, seemingly by the hour, we, too, are adjusting and adapting. This is new territory for us all, but we feel grateful to be in it together.

In emergency situations, like the COVID-19 pandemic, the Food Bank is considered an essential service and our staff considered essential personnel. It is a badge that we wear with pride and honor. In many ways, launching into an emergency response mode is what we’re trained for. We are here to serve Chester County for as long as we are able to safely do so.

Therefore, we are choosing to drastically limit the number of non-staff who enter our facility and interact with our staff. The most impactful way that we can do this is to limit volunteering. Please know that we have already taken precautionary steps to have certain staff work remotely, on a roughly 14-day cycle, so that we have folks to keep things going should any of us not be able to report to work. We are all taking care to follow the recommended social distancing and other precautionary measures, and we continue to coordinate with our partners like the Chester County Health Department and Emergency Management Division. We are making every effort to stay well-informed with the most up-to-date information.

Please have faith that decisions regarding our operations are made carefully with input from the experts available, and with staff and leadership consensus. We know that most of our volunteers are healthy, and that there are many more folks now at home looking to give their time in a meaningful way, however we feel that is the right call for the health and safety of our community at-large.

We look forward to continually reassessing the situation. We hope that by abiding by a 14-day cyclical approach to things that we will be able to limit COVID-19 exposure and spread, that we’ll provide at least some consistency in terms of our volunteer program status, and that our staff will be more available to focus on what’s most important right now – getting food out to those who need it.

We’d like to remind you that there are many other ways to support the Food Bank beyond hands-on volunteering with us. Please consider collecting food donations (see a list of most-needed items here) or becoming a Beyond Hunger 365 sustaining donor.

Our staff continues to be amazed by the outpouring of support. Please know that as our volunteers you are part of this family, and although we’re operating under new and strange conditions, we appreciate you and we can’t wait to work side-by-side with you again.

We appreciate your support of the Chester County Food Bank, especially during this time of uncertainty and of greater need. We know that the new procedures outlined above will impact many of you – these are not easy decisions to make, and please know that we’re being guided by advice from the experts and by a desire to protect the health and safety of those in our community to the best of our ability.

Your partnership is valued year-round – this is simply a bump in the road. For those who are unable to join us over these next weeks, we will be overjoyed to work with you again when social distancing recommendations are lifted.

If you have any questions about our volunteer program, please connect with Lauren Van Dyk our Volunteer Coordinator at volunteer@chestercountyfoodbank.org or at 610-873-6000 x122.

Together, we will persevere.


Important Resources for COVID-19

Please check these resources frequently to ensure that you’re aware of the most up-to-date information available regarding COVID-19 in our area.

A Message from CCFB about COVID-19

We are open and keeping health & safety as our top priority.

The Chester County Food Bank provides an essential service to the community and we will continue to do so taking the recommended COVID-19 precautionary measures for the health and safety of our staff, volunteers, partners and the community.  CCFB is a partner with the Chester County Health Department and will continue to follow their recommendations as the authority on this situation.

Chester County Food Bank has increased cleaning frequency, especially around areas of high traffic (volunteer areas, meeting rooms, bathrooms, food areas). We encourage everyone to follow these best practices to help keep yourself and others healthy. Please refer to the Chester County Health Department for the latest updates.

We realize that the situation today may be different next week or even tomorrow, and any changes will be communicated. We are working with our partner member agencies and food cupboards throughout the county to best serve our neighbors now and planning for ways to meet the increased needs as the situation potentially escalates. We will continue to monitor the situation and work with the Chester County Health Department to follow official recommendations.

Are You in Need of Food Assistance?

CCFB and our partner food cupboards/agencies are open and here to help. To the best of our knowledge, this list of programs is up to date. Due to current health concerns, always call to confirm hours of operation.  If you need further assistance, please call us at 610-873-6000 extension 123 and we are happy to assist you. You can view additional resources here.

How Can You Help?


Monetary donations will make the biggest impact. In an effort to meet the needs of our community, we are focusing on emergency distribution, including senior and emergency food boxes. Our buying power enables us to stretch your dollars so we can feed more people. Give today or consider making a monthly gift to sustain your giving for the months ahead.



Updated May 20, 2020

We are grateful for the support of the community and your concern for those in need. Your support is needed now more than ever but please, consider hosting a virtual food drive or making a monetary donation instead of a traditional food donation. Food from food drives has been touched by numerous people – from the store clerks, to customers, to you and your family  – then once the food is at the Food Bank it must be sorted and boxed – a task we cannot do right now in observation of limited crowd size and social distancing.  Your financial gift enables us to purchase the most needed foods to create emergency food boxes but also provide fresh fruits and vegetables to help the many people across Chester County that have been severely impacted by missed work, increased childcare expenses, and uncovered medical bills.

We have partnered with the YMCA of Greater Brandywine in a collaborative effort to collect and distribute food. Read more here about the YMCA’s food donation partnership.

If you prefer to bring your donation to the Food Bank, we ask that you deliver food donations Monday – Thursday 1:00p – 4:00p or Friday 8:00am – Noon
For questions about food donations please contact food@chestercountyfoodbank.org

Host Virtual Food Drive






Updated May 8, 2020
The Chester County Food Bank will begin to gradually welcome healthy volunteers back to join us over the coming weeks.

Please have patience as we work to find the safest and most efficient way to begin working with volunteers again. We can’t wait to see you, but we will continue to keep everyone’s health and safety our top priority. ALL volunteers are expected to self-screen before reporting to your scheduled volunteer shift.  Find our available opportunities, volunteer registration, and COVID-19 protocols here or the Sign Up button below.

Please monitor our website, Facebook or Instagram for updates. As we learn more about COVID-19 in our area, we, too, are adjusting and adapting. This is new territory for us all, but we feel grateful to be in it together.



Updated May 21, 2020

We welcome home gardeners to grow a row and donate produce to the Food Bank or your local food cupboard. Please review best practices for harvesting and donating.

Please see our modified produce donation procedure due to COVID-19 restrictions. 



Please share this information with your family/friends and on your social media.
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Thanks to our many partners and the community, we are able to mobilize quickly to address the food access of our community during this unprecedented situation. As new needs become apparent to us, we will communicate via social media and our website on how you can help.

Thank you, be safe and keep an open heart.

Ten Years of Real, Healthy Food for Chester County

This past November we celebrated our 10th birthday and it is a great time as we head into a new decade to reflect on our past work in light of all that remains undone.

We invite you to learn more about our team and tour each department through our most recent annual report. While we are proud of our achievements, you’ll see new, alarming statistics about the pressing need for food right now in our communities. With new data from United Way of Pennsylvania, the “ALICE” report clearly outlines the gap between the cost of living in Chester County and the qualifications for benefits that are out of reach for many of our neighbors. We will continue to advocate for polices that promote food security and equitable access to food for the people we serve. These include the root causes of poverty and the compounding factors that contribute to hunger.

Ten years of critical work is an accomplishment we share only through generous involvement. As we define and roll out our next strategic plan, we are inspired by the prospects ahead. We encourage you to stay committed through our next 10 years, as we take the people of our community Beyond Hunger.


Tax Reduction Strategies that Help Our Neighbors

We sat down with Chester County Food Bank Board member, Kevin McDermott, Private Wealth Advisor of Delphi Wealth Management Group to discuss two tax strategies for legacy giving.


“A popular philanthropic vehicle, a Donor Advised Fund can be set up to benefit the Chester County Food Bank. A DAF is a simple, tax efficient investment account. It allows donors to make a charitable contribution, receive an immediate tax deduction, and recommend grants from the fund over time to charities,” says Kevin McDermott,

Here’s how a DAF works:

  • Make a contribution from personal assets, including cash, stock, real estate etc.
  • Immediately, receive the maximum tax deduction allowed by the IRS.
  • Name the DAF Account, designate the advisors and name the Chester County Food Bank as beneficiary.
  • Your contribution is placed in the DAF investment account, which grows, tax-free.
  • At any time, you can recommend grants from the fund to Chester County Food Bank or any other charity.

“New tax laws have changed the nature of donations,” said McDermott. “Now charitable contributions may not be deductible if someone chooses to file their taxes using the new higher standard deduction instead of itemizing. The DAF allows an individual to lump several years of charitable contributions together to make itemizing their deductions worthwhile even though they can spread those contributions out over a number of years.”


McDermott said, “Another option for tax-free giving is available to retired folks who designate the Chester County Food Bank as the recipient of the Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) from retirement accounts or IRAs each year. As you may remember, when you reach the age of 70 1/2, the IRS requires a withdrawal of a portion of your retirement account each year, whether or not you need it for living expenses. The RMD is considered taxable income. To avoid reporting the RMD as taxable income, a wise and generous idea is to designate these withdrawals (or a portion of them) directly to the CCFB. The amount becomes a Qualified Charitable Distribution, a mutually rewarding strategy for giving.

To find the right provisions for your tax situation, please contact your financial representative or tax attorney.

To support the Chester County Food Bank, visit our website or call 610-873-6000 to speak with Beverly Abbonizio, Director of Development. 

4 Simple Recipes for the Holidays

When you’re thinking about, working with and helping others get access to food as often as we are at Chester County Food Bank, it’s impossible to ignore the significance that the holidays can have for our neighbors in need. For many families in Chester County, even if they can get by week to week, the big, festive meals that for many of us are a time of joy can present lots of extra stress.

Our partnerships with local food pantries and our ongoing programs like our Senior Food Boxes, which provide nutritious ingredients to nearly 800 seniors in our region, help to ease the burden for families during the holidays and all year long.

As we round the corner to the winter holidays ahead, we wanted to remind you that preparing food for special gatherings doesn’t have to be an overwrought or expensive undertaking. Even if you love to cook, it can be hard to eke out the time or spend extra on specialty ingredients at the market. And while we all love to tuck into our favorite comfort foods around the holiday table, extravagance is not what these holidays are about. They are about togetherness, love and gratitude.

One of the things that we’re grateful for is that our favorite holiday side dishes require little more than a few veggies, a handful of herbs, a splash of milk or broth and a good recipe to guide the way. Here are four recipes from our collection for simple, affordable and nutritious holiday dishes that you can bring to the table this year:

Maple Glazed Squash: This recipe is a multi-tasker since it could be breakfast, a side dish or even a healthy dessert! With a dozen common varieties readily available, winter squash is a delicious nutrient-dense root veggie. This recipe is flexible for any variety and you could even include some sweet potatoes or carrots.

Roasted Beet & Kale Salad: Though it used to be a bit more of a “health food” staple, kale has risen through the ranks of the food world to become a mainstream veggie. And we’re glad for it, too: Our farm-grown kale is bursting with vitamins and minerals. This recipe featured as a Fresh2You recipe bundle this past season includes leeks but those can easily be substituted with red or yellow onions. A quick massage with olive oil tames the kale’s crunchy texture, and the bright slightly sweet dressing will have guests reaching for seconds. The salad is a lighter addition to the holiday menu.

Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese: Mac & Cheese is a holiday tradition for many families but it can also be one of the most calorie-laden. That’s why we appreciate this healthier take (but oh-so-delicious) on a classic dish.  Butternut squash brings a little sweetness and creaminess enabling for less cheese. Don’t think of this one just for the holidays, this is a keeper for the entire winter. This also freezes well so make a little extra for a snowy day ahead.


Applesauce Cinnamon Oat Muffins: Lots of cookies to go around during the holidays so this muffin is a guilt free treat. These muffins are freezer-friendly so make a batch to grab on busy mornings or for a healthy snack. This is a great base recipe so feel free to change it up by adding bananas, raisins or even some roasted butternut squash.

Find more recipe inspiration here including those featured with our Fresh2You Mobile Market weekly recipe bundles. Let us know if you made any of these recipes!

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: Pixabay; all other photos: Chester County Food Bank

How to Maximize Your CCFB Food Drive

You’ve decided to organize a food drive for the Chester County Food Bank (CCFB)— that’s great! We simply couldn’t tackle food insecurity in our community without these types of donations that come from our dedicated, passionate supporters. Every single item that you and your family, friends, co-workers, and anyone else who’s participating, collect ends up in the hands of one of our neighbors in need, and it can make a positive impact on their day, week and beyond. 

Now that you’ve assembled your awesome crew of food drive team members and registered your drive with the Food Bank, you might be wondering how you can mobilize your energy and make the most of your efforts. We get questions like this a lot! One great place to start is with our Food Drive Tool Kit, which addresses frequently asked questions, provides a list of our most-needed food items, and includes handy resources, like our logo and promotional flyers. 

But there’s one major piece to the food drive puzzle which might not be clear, but it is really important for us: Just focus on a few items instead of trying to gather “one of everything.” While you might think of the food you gather as providing complete meals for one or a few families, it’s better to think of it like taking care of one category of food — perhaps pasta, grains and cereal, or canned or dried beans, or cooking oil. 

“We tell people that are starting to plan their food drive: Think of this as stocking the shelves in a grocery store,” said Claudia Rose-Muir, CCFB’s Direct Distribution and Procurement Manager. “If you were to collect 100 boxes of pasta and 100 jars of sauce, 100 families would have a meal, but if you brought a couple of this or a few of that, while it would be great and more than someone had, it doesn’t help to make a meal.” 

Stocking the shelves is, in fact, what food drives do for CCFB. Remember, we are not a food cupboard or pantry, where families and individuals come to pick up items that will help supplement their meals throughout the week. Chester County Food Bank is a centralized hunger relief organization, taking in donations from many sources, organizing and storing thousands of pounds of food in our warehouse, and then we redistribute items to food pantries, which we refer to as our “member agencies.” (For more on the differences between food banks and food pantries, see here). Our warehouse really does resemble a supermarket; the warehouse is organized by item and laid out in a similar fashion to a supermarket, with wide, deep shelves and aisles.

Choosing one or two items to focus on for your food drive — bonus points for creating a theme, like “pasta dinner” or “Soup-er Bowl” — also makes it easy for all participants to remember. Every time your team members are at the store doing their own shopping, they’ll remember to put a few extra of that item in their cart. Also, common pantry staples are something neighbors typically have on hand. When asking for donations, it’s best to be direct and specific, so a question like, “Do you have an extra can of soup or tuna in your cupboard?” might produce more effective results than a more vague, “Do you have anything to donate to our food drive?” 

Another bonus of approaching your food drive this way is that you can harness the power of buying in bulk (something we know all about from our trips to local produce auctions). Items like rice and dried beans are even more inexpensive when you buy them from a bulk section, which are becoming popular in mainstream grocery stores. If the item your food drive is collecting is on sale one week, you can stock up, and, of course, warehouse stores, like Costco and BJs, are your ace in the hole if you’re a member, when it comes to buying in large quantities.

As with all of our food drives, we encourage you to choose foods that are whole-grain, low-sodium/sugar, and that do not contain high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils. Also, please note: We are not able to accept expired or homemade goods, or items in glass. For answer to all other questions, please refer to our Food Bank Tool Kit, or reach out to us at  food@chestercountyfoodbank.org. Good luck on organizing your most successful food drive ever! 


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 to 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, healthy food.

Emily Kovach

Photos: Chester County Food Bank

Goodbye & Hello

How lucky we are at the CC Food Bank to have an amazing group of volunteers and staff! Cheryl Fluharty is one such example who shared with us years of smiles and a passion for our mission. Cheryl began volunteering with the Food Bank nearly eight years ago at our Downingtown location. When we moved to our current location in Exton, Cheryl, along with group of regular volunteers, didn’t skip a beat and continued volunteering. In October 2014, Cheryl transitioned from volunteer to part-time Production Cook to prepare meals for our expanding culinary program and partnership with Meals on Wheels. Her culinary skills and passion for food helped to increase client participation. She was also an integral part of creating Simple Suppers which enables us to serve more people in the community. Simply said, Cheryl cooked with love.

Due to the growth at the CC Food Bank, including the kitchen, the Production Cook now requires full time staff. To that end, we would like to welcome Levi Villagomez. A recent graduate of our FRESHstart Kitchen workforce development program, we are excited to welcome Levi to the team. If you’re volunteering with us or dropping off a food drive, please give Levi a welcoming Hello. Thank you Cheryl for sharing your time and talent with the Chester County Food Bank!

State Food Purchase Budget Falls Short

Take action today! Contact your state and local elected officials and let them know that you support the State Food Purchase Program.

• • •

July 1st marks the beginning of Pennsylvania’s fiscal year, and in most years, the beginning of a new state budget. Part of the budget that we pay most attention to at Chester County Food Bank belongs to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture – a line item called ‘State Food Purchase,’ which appropriates funds to the State Food Purchase Program (SFPP) and the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System (PASS).

Pennsylvanians are fortunate to live in one of a few states that provide a state food program. State food programs extend additional support to eligible households struggling with food insecurity. This is a supplement to other federal nutrition assistance programs like The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). Throughout the year, CCFB engages with Pennsylvania legislators and our advocate network to support a funding increase to the State Food Purchase budget. Of the total allocation, CCFB receives a portion based upon county unemployment rates and participation in SNAP and the Medical Assistance program.

In fiscal year 2018, Chester County was awarded a share of $325,371 in State Food Purchase funds. Those funds provided nutrition assistance to more than 7,000 households and an additional 70,000 meals at soup kitchens and hot meal sites throughout Chester County.

Along with a network of Food Banks and charitable organizations under the name Hunger Free PA, we asked the state for a combined allocation of $24 million to feed Pennsylvanians in need; $21 million to SFPP and $3 million to PASS. In total, our request would represent 0.07% of the state’s $34 billion budget*. The Pennsylvania state legislature was not swayed by our efforts and did not allocate additional funds in the new State Food Purchase budget.

Over the last 10 years, the average annual increase in funding for the State Food Purchase Program was 0.9%. Meanwhile, over the same 10-year period, the average annual increase in food cost was 1.2%. Since 2014 the average annual increase in food distributed by the Chester County Food Bank is close to 5%. At this rate, the distribution and cost of food for food banks will outpace the state’s food assistance budget in a few years. This will place the burden on us to find additional resources to continue serving our communities with the same quality of healthy food we all deserve.

Take action today!

Contact your state and local elected officials and let them know that you support the State Food Purchase Program.



* Correction: our request would represent .07% of the state’s budget, not .06%.
Photos: Shutterstock, Dish Works