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Feeding Families: Local Partnership Strengthens Summer Food Box Program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emily Kovach

Photos: Chester County Food Bank