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Food Bank’s rescue efforts rewarded with $100K grant

The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank hopes to use a recently awarded $100,000 grant to continue its food rescue efforts, which have already saved nearly 10 million pounds of food since the COVID-19 crisis began in March.

In addition, the funds will enable the Food Bank to create a new night shift, adding four new jobs at its Harrisburg hub.

The grant, awarded by ReFed, a non-profit that seeks to advance solutions to reduce food waste, was doubled in acknowledgment of the ways in which the Food Bank has expanded its food rescue efforts during the continuing health crisis.

“The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank has become the largest food rescue organization in Pennsylvania,” said Joe Arthur, the Food Bank’s executive director.

“By food rescue, we work with everything from grocery stores to other retailers,” he added.

Arthur estimated that last year alone the Food Bank rescued 14.5 million pound of food that would have otherwise been sent to landfills.

“That averages out to a tractor trailer load a day, 365 days a year,” he noted.

Since the start of the crisis, the Food Bank has distributed more than 28 million pounds of food to those in need in the counties that it serves.

“From March through June, we distributed 47 percent more food to people in need in Central Pennsylvania that was an additional seven million meals,” Arthur said, noting that was above the figure for the previous year.

As the pandemic continues, with increased unemployment benefits continuing only through the end of next week and the new mitigation orders issued by Gov. Tom Wolf this week, state residents are facing unemployment again and the Food Bank is anticipating a longer recovery period.

“We certainly understand what the administration’s doing on the health front to help mitigate this COVID-19, but it does create the economic impacts which are already pretty severe. We do have concerns that the economic recovery period is going to be pretty extensive. So, we’re preparing for really several years of the continuation of the high demand for food assistance that we’re seeing right now,” Arthur said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Food Bank has expanded its food rescue efforts in order to adapt to disruptions in the food chain. In the past, the Food Bank’s programs included rescuing food from manufacturers and producers and connecting their food pantries with local retailers to pick up excess prepared food. They had also worked with distributing federally funded food s and administering the state’s Agricultural Surplus System grant that rescues food from local farmers and redistributes it throughout the state’s charitable food system.

Since the pandemic began, the Food Bank expanded these programs and added the USDA’s Farmers to Families program and began working with Operation BBQ Relief to redirect restaurant and bulk-sized food items into family-sized prepared meals.

“Those kinds of programs are really helping. That’s a lot of healthy food helping to fill some of the gaps,” Arthur said.

“There are continuing challenges on certain dry goods products,” he admitted, adding that these would include canned vegetables and fruits and that type of product.

In order to compensate for the challenge of getting those types of food, Arthur said that the Food Bank is substituting fresh produce in the Farmers to Families food boxes. He noted that they have been receiving large amounts of milk and dairy products as well as an ample supply of meats.

As the federal government is debating whether to issue a second stimulus package to alleviate the economic crisis, Arthur said that the Food Bank is concerned that without the added relief the financial struggles for many will continue and increase.

“Our concern is if those relief packages aren’t strong enough, we may see people struggling to pay for their rents because of the job loss situation that is happening as we speak. That for us is more of a concern,” he said.

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