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Chester County Food Bank Announces New Chair of the Board

History to repeat as Bob McNeil steps back into the role

We are pleased to announce that founding chairman Robert D. McNeil will reprise his position as Chairman of the Board for the Chester County Food Bank. Mr. McNeil was instrumental in creating the Food Bank in 2009 and held the position of Board Chair until 2014.

The transition comes with the recent announcement of founding Executive Director Larry Welsch’s retirement. “I have a deep passion for the work of the Food Bank,” said McNeil, “and I am excited to be invited back to find the next leader of the Chester County Food Bank, someone who will continue the mission and stay rooted in the community.”

“It has been an honor to serve as the CCFB Chair these past several years. A transition from the founding ED to the successor is an important one. It made sense to have Bob, as our founding Chair, lead the Food Bank during this critical phase. I look forward to watching the growth and successes of the Food Bank as an essential service to our community,” said Lauren Harrell, outgoing chair.

“We are grateful for the years that Lauren has dedicated to us and appreciate her guidance navigating us through these uncertain times,” said Larry Welsch.

“I’m looking forward to partnering with Bob once again on the transition of my role, said Larry. “I am confident that together we can ensure a strong future for the Food Bank and for my successor.”

McNeil will once again bring his extensive business and philanthropic background to his role and is eager to work with the dedicated volunteer Board leaders who lend their expertise to mobilize the community to ensure access to real, healthy food for our most vulnerable neighbors in Chester County.

Reliant Upon Volunteers, Food Bank’s Ag Program Produces Fresh Food for Those in Need

As the county’s central hunger relief organization, the Chester County Food Bank serves more than 120 partner agencies and distributes more than three million pounds of healthy food to those in need. While much of the food is secured though donationsfood assistance programs, and grant money, the Food Bank strives for a third of the food it distributes to be fresh from its own Agricultural Program, the success of which depends on a steady supply of volunteers. Lack of transportation, limited income, or scarcity of adequate grocery stores are barriers for many to acquire fresh food as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Through partnerships with local farms, the Ag Program helps break down these barriers by growing, harvesting, and delivering produce to the Food Bank to be processed, packaged, and distributed.

One of those local farms, Pete’s Produce Farm in West Chester, was originally involved with the Chester County Gleaning Program that gathered excess produce from local farms that would otherwise go to waste. Seven years ago, the Food Bank added its own on-site farmer, Bill Shick, who is the current Agricultural Program Director, to help increase production on the land that owner Pete Flynn has allocated to them.

“When I came on, I inherited that relationship with Pete’s farm and expanded it to have more diversity in what we were growing,” said Shick. “Pete continues to do all the tractor work and helps us maintain the irrigation systems, but we took on the responsibility of growing our own seedlings, planting the crops, harvesting, and getting the harvest back to the Food Bank, where the Produce Manager, warehouse staff, and logistics team handle all the re-packaging of the produce.” To help plant and harvest more than 200,000 pounds of fresh produce each season, the Ag Program depends heavily on a willing group of volunteers from the community. The COVID-19 outbreak at the beginning of this year’s growing season, however, cast doubt on how many crops to grow and on how many hands would be available to help bring in the harvest.

CCFB Farmer Colin Mahoney instructs volunteers on harvesting kohlrabi.

“What keeps this job and what keeps farming interesting is that every year is different,” said Shick. “We had no idea what to expect earlier this season due to the pandemic. Our gut reaction was to grow more because we were worried about the food supply, but then we were worried about not having the help to pick it.”

An ironic twist to the pandemic’s economic toll is that – with more people temporarily furloughed, more having flexible work schedules, and fewer taking vacations – there is a greater labor supply to lend a hand on the farm. “We usually struggle with getting volunteers in the summer,” said Shick, “but this year we have more help than ever before. We offer an outdoor opportunity that people feel safer with right now, and we also offer the room to social distance.”

Besides Pete’s Produce Farm, the Ag Program has a greenhouse at Springton Manor Farm in Glenmoore. It is also involved with the horticultural program at the Chester County Intermediate Unit. Colin Mahoney, the Food Bank’s Farm Manager, helps Shick plan which crops to grow and manages the volunteer shifts in the field. He is proud of the different types of produce the Ag Program generates. “We grow spinach, tomatoes, corn, cabbage, peppers, onions, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cilantro, parsley, mustard greens, and basil,” Mahoney said. “The produce will go for general distribution to our network of food pantries, but also a variety will go to our Fresh2You Mobile Market and Eat Fresh cooking classes.”

The Food Bank appreciates any help it can get out in the field, but making sure volunteers do everything properly, wear gloves, and practice social distancing has taken more time and supervision this year. “To maintain basic safety protocols, we’ve scaled back our capacity this year,” said Mahoney. “We’ve been counting on about 70 volunteers per week, doing about 200 hours of work. Bill and I are the only farmers, so it would be hard to do it all by ourselves. We really rely on the volunteers.” “We’ve been extremely fortunate with a powerful volunteer response this season despite all of its challenges, but it’s crucial that we keep the momentum going through the holidays,” said Lauren Van Dyk, Volunteer Coordinator. The Food Bank is more limited in the number of volunteers it can work with at once due to COVID-19 protocols, and spots do fill up quickly. The Food Bank will seek helpers to join it through the fall. Check the online calendar regularly to view new opportunities.

Chris Cooper of Vista.Today

Have a Bounty in Your Garden? Share with Your Neighbors

It’s that glorious time of summer when hours of sunshine during the day and a good soaking from evening thunderstorms make for happy plants, as evidenced by the backyard and community gardens positively exploding with fresh fruits and veggies. You can see the tomato and squash plants growing in leaps and bound before your very eyes!

Some gardens even become so prolific that the gardener has an overwhelming surplus of product to deal with. Sometimes a bounty can feel like a burden; after months spent tending to plants, the last thing a gardener wants is to watch perfectly good plants rot or be eaten away by pests.

If your garden is growing zucchini faster than you can eat it, by all means, surreptitiously drop off some to your neighbors. Then, consider donating some to the food cupboard closest to you.

Here at the Chester County Food Bank, we receive a lot of questions this time of year about donating fresh food from gardens. Every food cupboard is going to have its own guidelines particularly this year with COVID-19 safety protocols so don’t be shy about reaching out to ask specific questions before dropping off produce. Our Raised Bed Garden manager Raina Ainslie says, “There are more than 30 crops people could be growing right now, all with different harvest directions. Please review our best practices for harvesting and donating produce. Please only donate quality produce you would eating yourself. Avoid donating bruised. or overly mature veggies.

One thing we can recommend for sure is not allowing your zucchini to grow to the size of baseball bats! When squash get too big, the flavor and texture suffer, and the seeds can become tough and inedible. Sure, people can potentially shred one up for zucchini bread or muffins, but this wonderful produce won’t go as far to provide nutrition to families in need as when it can be sautéed, grilled or otherwise cooked into a healthful meal.

Happy harvesting!

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

 

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in August 2017 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Photos: Pexels

Executive Director Larry Welsch to Retire at End of the Year

Larry Welsch, the founding Executive Director of Chester County Food Bank, will retire from the organization at the end of this year.

Larry was hired as the first employee of the newly created Chester County Food Bank in October 2009 when county government needed a lead hunger relief organization in Chester County to take over state and federal food programs that were orphaned from a dissolved organization.

Larry began operations in November 2009 in a small two-car garage in Parkesburg and by September 2010 moved operations to a 10,000 square foot building in Guthriesville. Larry’s achievements include increasing the Food Bank’s programs to include nutrition education, strengthening its agriculture program and relocating the operations in 2013 to the Food Bank’s current 36,000 square foot facility in Exton to further expand programs including the addition in 2018 of a culinary training program, FRESHstart Kitchen.

Larry developed deep relationships with CCFB’s network of partner agencies including food cupboards, shelters and schools; Chester County government; regional and state food banks; Hunger Free PA; Feeding Pennsylvania and other community leaders, farmers, businesses and organizations.

“I have been at the Chester County Food Bank for its eleven years of existence. It has been the greatest opportunity of my career. I have had the privilege of working with an incredible group of people, who everyday give all they can to help make the lives of our neighbors better. I am so grateful to our heroic staff and to our many supporters for what we have been able to do for those in need,” said Larry.

“Before the COVID-19 crisis, I had begun to think that it may be time for me to retire. Clearly, I couldn’t have done it then, but now that we have created systems to cope with the crisis, I feel that the end of 2020 is the right time for me to step aside. The Board has been supportive of my decision and we are laying the groundwork together to assure that there will be a smooth transition. I leave behind an organization whose programs are meeting the needs of the community and have been recognized for their effectiveness by other nonprofits. The foundation of the Food Bank is strong and going through these last few months has made it even stronger.”

“Larry’s passion, coupled with tireless energy, has been inspiring,” said Bob McNeil founding chairman of the Chester County Food Bank and member of the executive search committee. “From its modest beginnings, this Food Bank has grown to be one of the strongest organizations in Chester County and Larry’s leadership has put CCFB on the map in the national food bank community. I am honored to have worked alongside Larry and be a part of the Food Bank’s mission. I do not take lightly the task to hire the next Executive Director of the Chester County Food Bank.”

Larry will remain at CCFB through the end of the year and will help with the changeover to a new Executive Director.

“I will miss the Food Bank, and I am very proud that the Food Bank has helped to make Chester County a healthier place for everyone,” he said of his departure. “I want to thank our many donors, volunteers, boards, partners and everyone who has helped CCFB during my time with the organization. I know with your continued support the needs of the food insecure will be met.”

Larry in 2011 with Elmer Duckinfield, beloved ‘grandfather’ of the Food Bank and its first official volunteer.

“It has been an honor to serve as chair of the board with Larry as our leader for the past several years,” said Lauren Harrell, current chairwoman. “His dedication and passion have guided the organization through a period of incredible growth. In light of COVID-19, the Food Bank is needed now more than ever, and the organization’s incredible crisis response would not have been possible without Larry and his leadership. While this is a time to celebrate Larry and his incredible accomplishments, as a board we must also look forward.  To that end, we are dedicated to finding our next Executive Director who can continue to serve our county’s food insecure and lead us into the future.”

Chester County Food Bank has launched an executive search for Larry’s replacement. Qualified applicants can send their resume to CCFBsearch@gmail.com

 

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 105 and we are happy to assist you. You can view additional resources here.

 

How Can You Help?

 

DONATE MONEY

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.

 

VOLUNTEER

Updated September 1, 2020
The Chester County Food Bank welcomes healthy volunteers to lend a hand at this critical time. 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 and will also be screened upon arrival for the shift .  Find our available opportunities, volunteer registration, and COVID-19 protocols here or button below.

 

HOST A VIRTUAL FOOD DRIVE

Updated September 1, 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 must be sorted and boxed – a task we cannot do right now in observation of limited volunteers due to social distancing.  Warehouse volunteers work on our pre-packed boxes that are filled with purchased food so we can ensure quantity and quality. Your financial gift enables us to purchase the most needed foods to create these ‘Sunshine 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. For questions about hosting a virtual food drive or fundraiser email ashuniak@chestercountyfoodbank.org or call 610-873-6000 ext. 103

Host Virtual Food Drive

 

 

 

 

DONATE FOOD

We are accepting food donations but ask that you please wear a mask and  follow signage posted at our warehouse entrance at the back of the building. Food donations are accepted, Monday – Thursday 8:00a – 4:30p or Friday 8:00am – Noon. Read more about our most needed items here. For questions about food donations please email food@chestercountyfoodbank.org or call 610-873-6000 ext. 109

 

 

DONATE PRODUCE FROM YOUR GARDEN

We welcome home gardeners to grow and donate produce to your local food cupboard or the Food Bank. Please review our best practices for harvesting and donating produce. Please only donate quality produce you would eating yourself. Avoid donating bruised. or overly mature veggies – no giant zucchini please! Please see our modified produce donation procedure and delivery schedule due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

 

 

SHARE THIS INFORMATION

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.

DONOR ADVISED FUND (DAF)

“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.”

QUALIFIED CHARITABLE DISTRIBUTION / QCD

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.