currents

Food, relief, community

Wayne County raises $180K to feed residents

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 5/26/20

WAYNE COUNTY, PA — This past month, Wayne County banded together in an effort to keep its residents from going hungry during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Named the Wayne County Food Relief Fund, …

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currents

Food, relief, community

Wayne County raises $180K to feed residents

Posted

WAYNE COUNTY, PA — This past month, Wayne County banded together in an effort to keep its residents from going hungry during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Named the Wayne County Food Relief Fund, the community-wide effort went into effect quickly once outbreak mitigation started putting residents out of work. Only about a week after the idea was conceived by commissioner Joe Adams, members of the Wayne Tomorrow group and the Wayne County Community Foundation, volunteers were handing out food on the first distribution day, which took place at various local school pickup areas throughout the county.

Four Fridays later, the initiative provided groceries for 1,617 families.

“That’s a lot of food, that’s a lot of people who were in great need,” Adams said.

Feeding that many people took quite a bit of coordination. Around 80 volunteers spent their Friday mornings loading bags of groceries into recipients’ cars; local groceries and restaurants donated food; and many residents made donations toward the cause. Throughout the process, Adams gave much of the credit for the project’s success to the employees in the human services department. He specifically thanked human services administrator Michelle Valinski, food pantry coordinator Clarissa Wimmers and food service manager Amy Constantino.

“They really stepped up and did a yeoman’s job to organize all of this,” Adams said.

Through the project, the commissioners also wanted to support local farmers whose supply chains have been disrupted by COVID-19.

“Adding local farm produce and products to the food drive was something that I think all of us were really excited about,” said commissioner Jocelyn Cramer. “It was wonderful, but it was also an additional, difficult layer to add… non-perishable items are so much easier.” Cramer said that the county reached out to local farmers to find out what they had available and how to get it distributed to the public. When recipients receive items like bok choy or sunchokes, they also got a newsletter letting them know what it was and recipes for how to prepare it.

Working with local farmers also helped the region’s dairy producers through an especially difficult period, as milk processors across the country have been shutting down because of the pandemic.

“Hopefully this proves the point that local producing and local processing can do the job,” said chairman Brian Smith, a dairy farmer himself. “If food processing was once again redistributed on a smaller, local level around our country, we would have a much better, sustainable food source… hopefully we can head back in that direction and become more sustainable and keep our farmers in business.”

All told, the initiative raised about $180,000. In addition to the fundraising efforts of the community foundation and other organizations, the team behind the annual Fall Music Festival at Dorflinger created the five-part Wayne County Cares Concert Series—filmed in an “undisclosed location” and live-streamed through Facebook. The concert series raised $10,000 for the food fund.

“Music, friendship, caring—that’s what it’s about,” said Jamie Rutherford, one of the concert’s organizers. “This community is special… together we have found that we can do anything, our community can do anything.”

The primary goal of the entire project was to help people feed themselves and families while they waited to receive their stimulus checks and unemployment benefits.

“We believe we accomplished what we wanted to accomplish,” Adams said. “To bridge [people who were out of money because they’ve been out of work now for nine weeks] to the point where they could get unemployment and stimulus monies to be able to help support their families.” The several dozen volunteers involved saw the most traffic during the second week of the program, the number of recipients dropped slightly over the next couple weeks. Adams attributed the drop—which he said was expected—to residents receiving stimulus checks and unemployment benefits over that period.

Now that the emergency fund has run its course, Adams said that all of the remaining money and leftover food will go toward supporting the local food pantries and food drives throughout the county. He noted that the various food pantries throughout Wayne County are extending their operations to continue serving people in need. Residents can call 570/253-4262 to register with a local food pantry.

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