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THANKFUL TO HAVE FOOD FOR THE TABLE

November 20, 2018
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THANKFUL TO HAVE FOOD FOR THE TABLE

SCRANTON — Without Friends of the Poor, Kaila Blackwell and her family might not have a Thanksgiving dinner. The single mother of four stocked up on pork chops, cheese, blueberries and canned food Monday at the Friends of the Poor’s Jackson Terrace food pantry, 148 Meridian Ave. “It’s going to give me and my kids a Thanksgiving dinner,” she said. “That’s what it’s going to do.” As a holiday known for bountiful meals quickly approaches, about one in seven families, and one in five children, face food insecurity, Weinberg Northeast Regional Food Bank Director Rich Kutz said. Food insecurity means a person cannot meet the requirements for a healthy diet without assistance, Kutz said. The food bank supplies food to roughly 150 partner agencies across Lackawanna, Luzerne, Wyoming and Susquehanna counties, which then distribute it to those in need, Kutz said. They also work with schools and day cares to give out fresh produce. In addition to a bag containing staples like milk, eggs, cheese, meats, bread and pasta, Blackwell also received a few toy trucks for her 4-year-old son. “It’s really hard sometimes, especially with all the kids and everything,” she said. “If it wasn’t for places like this, a lot of people would go without.” Including Blackwell, 67 people picked up food at the Jackson Terrace pantry Monday. Standing in front of a large refrigerator as the pantry prepared to close for the day, longtime Friends of the Poor volunteer Trumene Brown opened the stainless steel doors to reveal nearly empty shelves. “Today it was full,” she said. In the past year, the Weinberg food bank distributed more than 10 million pounds of food, and it hopes to increase that number by about 1.5 million within the next three years, he said. The food bank handles fresh produce, dry goods and frozen protein including meat and fish, he said. “What we see is a number of working poor ... and also probably a number of seniors and individuals who are handicapped, families with children,” he said. The holidays are the busiest time of year, and “one of the challenges that you have at holiday time is that there are items that we’re not going to see sufficient amounts donated, especially when you’re talking about things such as turkeys,” Kutz said. “So it’s essential that we are able to get donated funds so that we can purchase those products.” The food bank is always looking for volunteers, and during the holidays monetary donations are vital, Kutz said. To make a donation or volunteer at the food bank, visit ceopeoplehelpingpeople.org. Food banks such as Weinberg help supply food to dozens of pantries across Lackawanna County, which serve low-income individuals every month. The Friends of the Poor runs eight of those pantries — two full-time and six part-time. The full-time pantries provide up to 5,200 meals per month, President and CEO Meghan Loftus said. They give out about 1,300 bags of food each month; each bag contains three to four meals. The Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary sponsors the nonprofit organization. “Food insecurity is one of the biggest issues we try to tackle,” she said, explaining they primarily serve the working poor, meaning those who have jobs but still fall below the poverty line. “People who are food secure know where their next meal is coming from. Those who are insecure don’t necessarily.” Friends of the Poor serves people throughout the year, she said. “Poverty exists year round,” Loftus said. Beyond foodstuffs, the organization provides clothing and school uniforms, and helps people pay their water bill, Loftus said. They are always looking for volunteers, and anyone interested in volunteering can call 570-348-4429, Loftus said. Comparable to Friends of the Poor, the Bread Basket of Northeastern Pennsylvania runs seven pantries in Lackawanna County. The nonprofit organization distributed food to about 22,000 people, or about 5,000 households, in the 2016-17 fiscal year, Executive Director Sandra Roberts said. Bread Basket pantries primarily serve the working poor, and this time of year is always difficult, Roberts said. Assembling a full Thanksgiving dinner isn’t easy for low-income families. “They might be able to afford the mashed potatoes or the green beans or something, but for them to get all the parts to make a traditional Thanksgiving dinner can be a challenge,” Roberts said. Whether it’s peanut butter, tuna fish, or meals in a can like chili and ravioli, donating anything that contains protein is helpful, she said. While there is increased attention to those in need during the holidays, poverty doesn’t end with the new year. Roberts sees families going to food pantries throughout the year, and after the holiday season, corporate, school and church donation drives taper off, she said. “Let’s not forget our families that are struggling through the severe cold months when they have extra bills for heat ... gloves and hats and coats, and let’s not forget that we need to continue to support the pantry system in Lackawanna County after the holiday is over,” she said. “Share the love. Show your love.”For a directory of food pantries in Lackawanna County, visit The Times-Tribune’s website. Contact the writer: flesnefsky@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9100 x5181; @flesnefskyTT on Twitter

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