American inventor Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” Ford’s words were put to the test as the Chester County Food Bank hosted its third annual Coatesville Food Summit, held at the Chester County Public Safety Training Campus.
According to sobering statistics provided by the city, the current population of Coatesville living in poverty is 35.3%. Of those, 8.3% are senior citizens over age 65. Out of 6,311 students within the Coatesville Area School District, over 50% are eligible to take advantage of free or reduced lunch programs. That’s close to 5,000 residents who are in need of food cupboards and agencies in the Coatesville area alone. In 2015, the Chester County Food Bank took the initiative to create a task force to address the critical issues surrounding the city’s food insecurities and ways to streamline food distribution.
The objective of the Food Summit is to assemble the city’s agencies and organizations who serve meals, distribute food, host nutrition education programs or grow food for the Coatesville community to discuss and determine solutions for improving food insecurity logistics, in addition to getting to know the faces behind the resources.
“Having participated in the Coatesville Food Summit since its inception, I find it to be a valuable resource for my organization in helping us to meet the complex needs of our clients,” noted Kathryn Spurlock, director of the Coatesville Center for Community Health. “I have met other food providers and learned to appreciate their strengths, as well as understand the challenges they face in supplying food to their constituents. Learning more about the Food Bank, as well as its operations and services available, has also enabled me to work more closely with them to provide greater access to food and education to the clients of our Center.”
Explaining further how the Summit specifically helps her organization, Kathryn continued, “Providing food resources has added value to the holistic approach we take at our Center in providing care and support for many aspects of personal and family life. Helping our clients to improve their health and nutrition improves their ability to cope with the personal challenges they are facing. Through the Coatesville Food Summit, we have improved our ability to approach providing food and resources as a community, and not just as one organization. This has helped us to have a greater understanding of the overall needs of Coatesville, and work to establish a more seamless approach to food delivery with less duplication. As a result, a more effective and efficient system helps Coatesville to thrive as a community.”
Phoebe Kitson-Davis, Director of Agency and Community Partnerships for the Chester County Food Bank, explained how the Summit has evolved. “The first year, our goal was to get everyone in a room together to meet one another, to garner support with local politicians and services and make valuable connections while promoting constructive dialogue. Our second year concentrated more on bringing the partners together, operating hours of the organizations, educating each other on how we all serve the community while determining where specific gaps or overlaps in food distribution take place.”
The agenda of this year’s well-attended Summit consisted of an introduction of participants; specific programs, capabilities and goals of the Food Bank; discussions of an in-depth food assessment study being conducted by Drexel University and West Chester University regarding food insecurity from 2015–2016 in the Coatesville area, summer student feeding programs with the Coatesville Area School District and decisions regarding a single stream holiday food distribution.
As a result, the Food Bank will be forming a community-based committee that will assist with a food box distribution event on Saturday, November 18. “It will be a first for Coatesville to have one Thanksgiving distribution. We plan on modeling our distribution plan on the existing efficiently run by the Coatesville Youth Initiatives backpack program,” said Phoebe. “Invaluable community volunteers and business sponsorships are crucial, and a centrally located site is needed to make this a success for everyone. I anticipate close to 1,000 Thanksgiving food boxes to be allocated via our network of partners. That’s close to one-third of the total handled for the entire holiday season by the Food Bank.”
This year, the roundtable of enthusiastic participants included Pastor Frank Fullwood, Jubilee Evangelistic Ministries; Sondra Young, Ash Park Terrace; Pastor Dave Harmer, Kingsway Church; Brother Dave,Tabernacle Baptist; Gloria Hicklen, Coatesville Co-Op and Kathryn Spurlock, Coatesville Center for Community Health.
The team of dedicated organizations and personnel who made the summit happen include host site Chester County Emergency Services, Coatesville Center for Community Health, Citadel Credit Union, Senator Andrew Dinniman and, of course, host Chester County Food Bank.
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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.
Photos: Ed Williams