Tag Archives: volunteers

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

A Fresh Take on Our Fresh2You Program for 2018

Summer is nearly here, which means it’s time for one of our favorite annual initiatives: the Fresh2You Mobile Market! With generous support from QVC and the Chester County Health Department, this will be our fourth season of bringing affordably priced fresh fruits and veggies to underserved areas via our mobile market on wheels. The official start to the Fresh2You season is Tuesday, June 12.

This year brings some exciting new developments to Fresh2You! For starters, we’re expanding the Fruit & Vegetable RX (FVRx) program in the hopes of helping even more of our neighbors incorporate more fresh produce into their diets. Essentially, FVRx participants are provided with a real “prescription” for Veggie Bucks from their medical provider. Veggie Bucks are vouchers that can then be used to purchase fruits and vegetables each week at the Fresh2You Mobile Market.

“Last year, we piloted it with The Clinic, and it was extremely successful, so we’re expanding it to be at two additional sites,” said Roberta Cosentino, the Fresh2You Mobile Market manager. “One is the Coatesville VA and one is La Comunidad Hispana in Kennett Square. Folks can come to any of our markets and redeem those prescriptions for produce!”

Another update for 2018 is that we are no longer attending two of our sites from last year — Modena and Honey Brook — though we hope to be back in future years. A new location for us will be at the Coventry Mall in North Coventry. “This was somewhere we noticed a lot of people were coming from to our Phoenixville market, and we have a lot of community support out there,” said Roberta.

As always, we want to remind our supporters and clients that the Fresh2You Mobile Market is open to everyone. Whether you scour for the best bargains at the grocery store or shop for heirloom produce at your local farmers market, you are welcome at Fresh2You.

“We’ve learned very clearly that regardless of income level, people want to support local agriculture, want to know where their food is coming from and that there’s no shortage of demand for local produce,” Roberta noted. “We’ve learned that lesson over and over, and we’re trying to increase access in a way that’s dignified and equitable. Part of that equity is making the same foods available to everybody. When you see our logo, come on over and check us out!”

Anyone shopping at the market helps to support the program itself. Fresh2You accepts cash, credit/debit cards, SNAP/EBT and WIC and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program vouchers (FMNP). We match FMNP vouchers with Veggie Bucks, which we encourage people to come back and use the next time they shop.

No matter who you are, we’re betting that you love getting local produce, grains, spices and honey at a great price. Because of our relationships with farmers and remarkable buying power (we’re almost at the wholesale buying level of a grocery store!), we’re able to purchase food at extremely low wholesale prices. Because we’re a nonprofit and don’t mark the food up, we’re able to pass the savings on to our shoppers. Here are just a few examples of our prices:

  • Local eggs: $2.50/dozen.
  • Fresh bunches of kale: $2 each.
  • Tomatoes: $2/pound.

This year, we’re also bringing back our wildly popular recipe bundles. Each week, trained volunteers run a recipe demonstration that features a seasonal veggie. The volunteers cook the recipe on-site and give out samples. The recipes are generally very simple and healthful; alongside the samples, we hand out the recipe printed on a card and sell all of the ingredients in that dish for just $5. Our group of over 20 volunteers just completed their training and are ready to hit the markets with easy weeknight recipes to share!

“The recipe bundles were a huge success last year and we can’t wait to see how well it goes this year,” Roberta remarked. “We loved seeing this become part of people’s’ weekly routines!”

All of this awaits at the 2018 Fresh2You Mobile Market season. Check out our schedule to find the closest location to you — the truck is out and about five days a week, so come on out to enjoy the bounty of the season!

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

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

Meet the Team: The Tuesday Terrors Volunteers

Here at the Chester County Food Bank, we rely on our generous volunteers for so much of what we are able to accomplish. From processing donations to staffing events, it is thanks to the energy and dedication of our amazing volunteers that we can continue to help so many families and individuals in our community to have access to nourishing food and educational programming.

While we greatly appreciate all of our volunteers, there is an extra-special group that has been volunteering with the CCFB for years. This good-natured crew of 15 volunteers is lovingly referred to as the “Tuesday Terrors.” They give their time every Tuesday morning in our warehouse and kitchen, and then all go out to lunch together afterward! Throughout their years of service, the group has become a coordinated and well-trained team that can manage a number of tasks with limited supervision. From 9 a.m. until noon every Tuesday, they sort donated food, clean veggies, pack Meals on Wheels and pitch in wherever else they are needed.

Gerry Miller and his wife, Sue, joined the Tuesday Terrors in 2013 because they had both retired and wanted to participate in an activity that was socially engaging and benefited the community. One of their neighbors suggested the CCFB because they had a very positive experience volunteering with us. Gerry and Sue have fulfilled their goals with the Tuesday Terrors. Gerry said, “For Sue and me, the best parts are the camaraderie, and helping those in the community who might otherwise go hungry.”

Gerry says their group would be happy to welcome others, and encourages anyone interested to give volunteering a try. “You’ll meet a lot of wonderful people, volunteer in a very positive environment and discover that you are playing an important role in helping get food to people in need.”

Another Tuesday Terror, Gail Kimble, enjoys that the group is made up of strangers from diverse backgrounds who became friends. “We work hard, laugh a lot, share stories and care about each other and our families in a special way. We enjoy the work and are happy to help families who may be hungry,” she said. Her favorite part of volunteering at CCFB? “Knowing that in a small way I can impact someone’s life.”

Jerry West started volunteering at the CCFB seven years ago when we were still in our former location in Guthriesville. He’s found the experience to be satisfying in a fundamental way. “Volunteering lets me use my many skills that I have learned over my 80 years,” he said. “I feel I am giving back to others who need a helping hand.”

If you’d like to join the Tuesday Terrors or volunteer with the Chester County Food Bank in any capacity, let us know! You can check out our Volunteer FAQ page for more information, and email volunteer@chestercountyfoodbank.org with unanswered questions or to get involved.

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

Elmer Duckinfield: A Volunteer Ahead of His Time

“I grew up in the city. I couldn’t grow a tomato if I tried,” laughs Elmer Duckinfield, when asked what inspired him to become Chester County’s first official farm gleaning volunteer back in 1996. Elmer’s humility, dedication and quick humor become evident as we explored the origin of one of our most successful campaigns to get fresh produce into the hands of those experiencing food insecurity in our area.

Though Elmer, an octogenarian, has considered himself officially retired from the volunteer circuit for the past four years, back in 1996 an idea was brewing and Elmer was quick to embrace it and become a welcome fixture in our community.

In the 90’s, food cupboards were lightly scattered within some of the larger towns of the county, but most of the hard work involved in food donations was done by church volunteer groups, scout food drives and the annual holiday collection.

At the time, Andrew Dinniman, a county commissioner and now a state senator, saw a need to do more. He knew exactly whom he could request to get the job done. “Who says no to Andy?” says Elmer, who had recently retired from Burroughs Corp. when he was tapped to lead the new effort.

Elmer and Senator Dinniman have known each other for many years. Elmer continues, “He has a way of supporting people, and putting a level of confidence in you that makes you want to succeed. We believed that if we approached some of our county’s local farmers, we could find a way to gather the excess large volume crop yield that sometimes went uncollected. Produce like potatoes, peppers, onions and corn were prime targets.”

Thus, the Chester County “gleaning program” idea was born and eventually blossomed into one of the largest fresh produce generators for the county. Today, we see the Food Bank distributing about 200,000 pounds annually to community partners who in turn reach over 40,000 men, women and children in Chester County.

Pete’s Produce in Westtown was one of the first farms that Elmer “staffed” with volunteers. Owner Pete Flynn agreed to set aside several acres for the Gleaning Program that still exists today. “I remember quite a few times leaving the farm at the end of the day and Elmer would still be in the fields with stacks of produce to deliver to the Food Bank,” says Pete. “Even if he was a few volunteers short, he worked hard to get the job done and never once complained.”

Soliciting volunteers was something that Elmer had little experience with early on. He worked with the Grove Methodist Church initially to come up with lists of names. “There were no computers or cell phones back then. I did everything with pen, paper and my ear to the phone,” says Elmer. “I had to make schedules and have people ready to go when the crops were ready. There was no time to wait. I was so very fortunate with the many volunteers that have helped with gleaning over the years. They are the ones that make it all possible and worthwhile.”

Longtime volunteers Ed and Mary Fitzpatrick say, “We originally volunteered to assist Elmer with bread and pastries donations from Entenmann’s Bakery, which we boxed and loaded into cars or vans from the various agencies. One day, we discovered that Elmer was heading out to one of the produce farms in the area for some ‘real work’ and we were hooked. It was not unusual to arrive at the site to find he had already started the more difficult tasks himself. When he recruited us to come out at a certain hour, we knew to arrive much earlier because he would have started alone.”

Today, the Chester County Food Bank still requires volunteers to work alongside their staff farmers, Bill Shick and Edil Cunampio. Lots of people, like you, who only need devote a few hours or more to making a difference whether it’s planting or harvesting from one of our now many partnered farms or working in our Eagleview location in the kitchen. As our honorary volunteer chairperson Elmer so simply and wholeheartedly illustrates, thinking outside of ourselves creates an opportunity to improve the quality of lives for others. Elmer and his diverse team are also proof that volunteers of all ages and interests are needed and welcomed. Love to garden? Great! Prefer to help elsewhere along the food chain? That works, too.

Those who speak of Elmer refer to his humility. Never one to take credit for being the first to arrive in the field or the last to leave, Elmer also trained all the volunteers and helped deliver fresh produce from the back of a station wagon.

Elmer has bounced back from hip, cataract and heart surgery. His story continues to serve as a reminder to all of us of how dedication, creativity and hard work generate positive results for our community. Thank you, Elmer. We appreciate you.

Editor’s Note: Elmer lost his brave and quiet battle with cancer on May 6, 2017, surrounded by his beloved family. We vow to carry on his legacy.

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, schools and social service organizations throughout Chester County. We mobilize our communityto ensure access to real, healthy food.

Ed Williams

Top photo by Ed Williams