What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear “food fight?” Typically, one probably thinks of children throwing chicken nuggets or french fries, at each other. Chester County students are having their own unique kind of “food fight.”
Supporting the Chester County Food Bank, students take part in challenges like “Mac Madness.” “Mac Madness” is a play on words of “March Madness,” except students are competing against each other to see who brings in the most boxes of macaroni and cheese to their schools.
“These are the best kinds of food fights,” says Community Outreach and Marketing Director Anne Shuniak. “At the end of the day it works out beautifully.”
Shuniak has worked for the Chester County Food Bank for about 18 months. Her job is to engage community members to volunteer and take initiative in their community. Although Chester County is among the top 25 wealthiest counties in the country, according to Shuniak, 70,000 individuals are food insecure.
“Whatever the stress is, I’m fortunate enough to say I’ve helped,” says Shuniak.
Since 2009, the Chester County Food Bank has been a staple in the region and has expanded immensely. The organization started off in a garage and has grown to a 36,000-square-foot facility, with more refrigerator and freezer space, while distributing food to shelters, cupboards, and senior centers. The cupboards work hand-in-hand with numerous churches that grow produce for them. Not only does the food bank receive donations, employees and volunteers make their own fresh food on-site and participate in produce auctions.
“The partnership works beautifully together,” Shuniak said. “The gardens grow really well.”
In addition, the food bank educates young children and offers programs such as “The Outdoor Classroom at Springton Manor Farm.” The program provides a nutrition-oriented, hands-on learning experience. Children can take part in scavenger hunts through raised-bed gardens, have relay races, and answer nutrition-based questions.
“The Outdoor Classroom is a new program that was founded over the summer and is very practical,” Shuniak says. “We can show students what it looks like to grow kale.”
The food bank started with just 25 raised-bed gardens, and today there are 621 at 49 different schools, allowing students to be directly connected with work in the greenhouse, along with a supporting curriculum.
“I recently had a parent call asking if a raised-bed garden could be built at her child’s school,” says Executive Director Larry Welsch. “That to me is truly rewarding.”
Throughout the years, the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup has been one of the food bank’s significant events. The food bank was selected as a beneficiary thanks to board member Betty Moran, and the cup has been extremely generous to them. Coincidentally, families involved in the event are also passionate about the food bank.
“Hunters Sharing the Harvest” is a particularly interesting way in which Chester County contributes to its community. “Hunters Sharing the Harvest” encourages hunters to donate deer. The deer is then brought to local butchers and the meat is supplied back to the food bank.
“It is just a wonderful domino effect,” Shuniak says. “You never know who you could be talking to.”
“Eat Fresh” is a six-month program in which individuals can receive produce every week at no cost. At the same time, people can monitor their weight and learn how to eat healthy. Shuniak recalls a time in which a diabetic couple took part in the “Eat Fresh” program, too.
“We had a client that has to no longer take cholesterol medication,” Welsch says.
The food bank will have a wine event on Friday, March 14, 2014, at The Desmond Hotel. Former Philadelphia Eagles Coach, Dick Vermeil, will be in attendance. Vermeil will donate wine from his winery, Vermeil Wines. The event features a locally inspired and sourced menu, with custom wine pairings for each course.
Chester County Food Bank has proven to be successful and continues to thrive. Roughly six years ago, Welsch began planning for an anticipated reduction in government funding. This year, although government funding dropped 50 percent, food distribution went up 20 percent.
The passion, perseverance, and dedication that is shared throughout the county is clearly evident. Individuals like Shuniak and Welsch are the ones to thank along with a plethora of volunteers and students. The Chester County Food Bank unquestionably leads by example.
“We all have crazy days, but we’re just trying to help our community,” Shuniak says.
For more information, visit chestercountyfoodbank.org or call 610.873.6000.