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UWCHLAN — With Thanksgiving less than two weeks away, people in Chester County who are struggling to put a holiday meal – or any meal – on their table will be facing an even tougher time now that the Chester County Food Bank is in desperate need of donations.
“Last year we serviced over 40 agencies with about 5,000 turkeys plus all the fixings,” said Ally Antonini, administrative support and government programs coordinator with the Chester County Food Bank. “This year, we only have about 1,000 and are only serving about 19 agencies. It’s definitely hitting us hard.”
Trying to call attention to its need, U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello visited the food bank Friday evening to bring his own box of donations and to find out how things are going during this tough time.
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“The reality is we’re entering a holiday season where there is a lot of people who are not going to be able to put a holiday meal on the table,” Costello said. “There’s a very generous spirit about Chester County. I encourage constituents during the holiday season to consider participating in the food bank programs.”
Since the state has continued with the budget impasse, programs such as the State Food Purchasing Program (SFPP) at the food bank has been nonexistent.
The SFPP provides cash grants to counties for the purchase and distribution of foods to individuals with low incomes. Without that cash, these places can’t afford to buy the food those individuals are counting on.
At the Chester County Food Bank, they have bought some food for that program in the hopes of getting reimbursed from the state.
“There is a lot of food here, but we’re not really giving it out and that is because we’re still waiting on the state budget to be passed,” Antonini said. “We basically bought this food and it’s kind of in layaway at this point. We’re basically spending money we hope we’ll eventually receive. Some agencies throughout the state are either taking out lines of credit or starting to lay off staff, cutting hours or cutting services to the clients that they’re serving.”
Though in Chester County, agencies haven’t quite felt the impact as much as other counties, and that’s in part due to the Chester County Human Services.
“Luckily, the Chester County Department of Human Services was able to give us an advance on the first quarter payment, so we were able to get a little bit of admin money for all of our programs, but as of Oct. 1, it got cutoff,” Antonini said. “There are a few programs still being funded a little bit, but for the most part, most of the county agencies are struggling.”
The food bank, though, doesn’t rely only on the SFPP, as it also has The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).
The USDA provides food banks with healthy, nutritious food, while also supporting American farmers and producers, through TEFAP.
That hasn’t gone away.
“It’s a nice surprise to have all this federal food come in, in such a time of need,” Antonini said.
For other agencies, however, they are feeling the pinch.
“I couldn’t believe how many families we had in October (with 40),” said a statement from the Blessing House in Honey Brook.
“In the previous months, we ran between 25 and 30. Of the 40 families, 11 were new,” Antonini said. “I am expecting the number to be higher because of the holidays. Several have asked if we were giving out baskets this year. I just tell them we will do our best.”
The West Chester Food Cupboard, which uses the SFPP, is also feeling cutoff.
“From our perspective, it is simple: the food available through SFPP is now not available to food cupboards to give to people in need,” said a statement from the West Chester Food Cupboard.
The food bank is looking for just about everything, but the hot commodities for them seem to be juices, canned meat and canned fruit.
Pretty much anything that is being donated goes right back out the door again.
“The food, especially around the holidays because they’re seeing so many more people, goes in and out the door,” Antonini said. “It’s really not sticking around.”
Things can get much worse at the beginning of 2016 because donations will almost completely cease.
“We’ll see a few food drives every once in a while from organizations or corporations, but for the most part, it dries up,” Antonini said. “We’re always in need.”
Of course, with the holidays quickly approaching, the food bank is also looking for turkeys, whether it’s an actual frozen turkey or a coupon for one from a grocery store.
The Chester County Food Bank is open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday, Nov. 21, from 9 a.m. to noon.
“We’ll have volunteers come out and do some sorting and also have donations,” Antonini said.
The food bank does have some volunteer opportunities still open and anyone interested can visit the website to see what is available at http://chestercountyfoodbank.org.
Those interested can also contact the agencies partnered with the food bank directly to see if there are any volunteer opportunities there as well. All of those agencies are listed on the food bank’s website.