About 1,700 Lawrence County residents are eligible to participate in the surplus food program.
By LAURA MILOSER
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Lawrence County is seeking faith- and community-based organizations to be distribution sites for food for the needy as the county moves from a voucher program to a food bank.
County commissioners made a decision this fall to eliminate the voucher program. The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank will now handle the surplus food program, which is part of America's Second Harvest.
The food bank is one of 211 nationwide and services all of Southwestern Pennsylvania.
"Change is never easy; our goal is to serve more people, better," Cynthia Moore, Pittsburgh food bank agency relations director, told representatives from about 10 county communities last week at the Lawrence County Government Center.
With the voucher program, participants paid retail prices for the food they purchased, Moore said, adding, "The county was not getting the biggest bang for their buck."
Further, she said, vouchers were distributed only quarterly.
Under the food bank program, residents meeting 150 percent poverty guidelines will be able to visit a food pantry in their area or pick up a pre-packaged box of food on a monthly basis beginning Jan. 13.
What boxes contain
Moore said the pre-packaged box would contain items such as peanut butter, jelly, canned tuna and chicken, rice and cereal. There also may be an opportunity for the participants to pick up fresh produce and meat, when available.
"Our goal is to try to find faith- and community-based organizations to participate as a food bank distribution site close to where people live," Moore said.
One of the challenges is that five of the food bank providers are within blocks of each other, said Sheila Page, Pittsburgh food bank regional agency relations administrator, who accompanied Moore last week.
Moore said the food bank is asking for municipalities to act as distribution sites if there is not a participating organization in their area.
Food boxes will be dropped off at the New Castle Armory on Frank Avenue, and each participating municipality will be given a time to pick up boxes.
"We would really love to work with community-based groups rather than put the burden on municipalities," Moore added.
Commissioner Steve Craig said, "I'll be the first to apologize. We've been working in our own little bubble. This is all about feeding the people in need."
Lewis Grell, Pulaski Township supervisor chairman, said, "We are not against distributing food, but given such a short notice, it is difficult to create a plan."
Grell was told that the Salvation Army Service Unit based out of New Bedford Presbyterian Church would serve Pulaski Township.
Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Ellwood City has volunteered to distribute food boxes to all of southern Lawrence County.
Hickory Township Supervisor Richard Lucas asked if volunteers will be at the Armory to help load the boxes, since his volunteers are senior citizens.
Moore said she has written a letter to Judge Dominick Motto of Lawrence County Common Pleas Court and a member of the county prison board requesting that he send people from the county jail's work-release program to help.
Lawrence County Contact EARS and Lawrence County Social Services will act as a hotline to direct the people to food distribution sites in their area.
About 1,700 Lawrence County residents are eligible to participate. Letters will be mailed to them at the end of this month to explain the necessary information.
"I would be lying to you to say everything is going to run smoothly," Moore said. "I do believe the residents will be ultimately better served. We have a whole staff of 60-plus people. That is what we do."
The Pittsburgh food bank distributed more than 16 million pounds of food last year. Currently it is distributing 1.4 million pounds of food to the hungry each month.