Hope is the idea many cling to in times of fear, turmoil and uncertainty. Hope is a light in the darkness and a guide during the storm. Hope drives compassionate action, unconditional love, and a helping hand. The York Food Bank is a hope for so many in their local community, an anchor in the storm and a constant for those in need.
The York Food Bank has served the community of York, Pennsylvania and its surrounding communities since 1982. YCFB has reached approximately 6,000 people who experience food insecurity or hunger each week through their partnership with 125 distribution partners. These partners include emergency food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and low-income child and senior centers that all partner together to “increase the quantity of—and dignified access to—high quality, nutritious food for everyone who needs it” (according to their website).
Roughly 46,300 residents, or 10.5% of York County’s population, do not have a consistent supply of—and access to—nutritious food. “As much as possible we try to have healthy food and a variety of food available to the clients and partners we serve so that people can make choices. We try to educate people on healthy choices and cooking,” says Director of Programs Zach Wolgemuth. The work that York Food Bank does makes a huge impact in the lives of so many in their community. Together with their partners, they feed more than 182,000 people each year. In 2018, the York Food Bank distributed more than 1.5 million pounds of food—1.2 million meals—with a wholesale value of more than $2.6 million.
In addition to their distribution partners, YCFB has several programs of their own that focus on access to food for those that are food insecure. Their Food for Families program takes place twice a week at the food pantry and serves 350-400 households each week. Another program they have is their Fresh Food program, which is a shopping program where clients that qualify can cash in their voucher for 50 lbs. of food. They also have a program that is specified to the seniors in their community, the Senior Box program. This program has about 1,000 boxes of food that are delivered each month from their food bank as well as their community partners. York Food Bank was beginning to launch a mobile food pantry that has since been put on pause due to the vast increase in need because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The York County Food Bank’s mission is to end hunger in York County by working with partner agencies to increase the quantity of—and dignified access to—high quality, nutritious food for everyone who needs it. Zach Wolgemuth noted that the individuals in their community who were receiving food support have an even further need that they were expressing. “A lot of our clients were really asking about hygiene products, some of the exact products that are in the CWS Hygiene Kits: soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, nail clippers and washcloths.” So, Zach reached out to CWS and requested hygiene kits and CWS Blankets.
The YCFB had been passing out the CWS Hygiene Kits and CWS Blankets in their Food for Families program, spacing them out to avoid distributing them all in one week. “Our clients were extremely excited to receive these. The hygiene kits are a staple item, I don’t know that I saw anyone who turned the hygiene kits down. 99% if not 100% of the people coming through chose to take one of the hygiene kits,” Zach explained.
Zach has not only had a history of professional involvement with CWS, but a personal connection as well. This encouraged his family to get involved in kits assembly firsthand! “My wife and I for the past number of years around Christmas, have asked our own kids what type of CWS kit they would want to put together and we go out and buy the supplies with them and assemble the kits together on Christmas morning.” This year the Wolgemuth family decided to put together 20 hygiene kits, which were able to be added to those distributed at the YCFB. “We felt good about that as a family, to continue that as a tradition. It’s a way for young kids to get involved and is impactful for them. It’s good all around. It’s something tangible that people can do that does make a difference. The CWS kits are very practical, anybody pretty much on the planet can use, it’s something that is needed and is going to get used,” Zach recounted.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the York County Food Bank has seen an extreme increase in the needs of their community. They took over an old K-Mart building and overnight converted that as their food pantry, that they have worked out of now for the past three weeks. The day after moving into the new facility, they served 1,600 households through a drive thru distribution, as compared to the 400 households they typically serve in a month.
“The outpouring of support from the community has been amazing. We’ve gotten support from local businesses loaning us forklifts, pallet jacks and semi-trucks. It’s been great.” Zach continued.
“Now our fresh food pantry is closed, and we’ve suspended our Food for Families program. We are still doing the senior box plan, but we have moved everything to prepacked food. We’re offering these to school districts within our county as well as to our partner agencies. We are packing around 1,000 boxes every day and distributing to 1,7000 households per week out of their facility and expect to see those numbers only increase. This food distribution amounts to 63,000 pounds of food out of our facility per week,” Zach emphasized.
“In some ways the timing of receiving the CWS Hygiene Kits is perfect. We had not distributed all the hygiene kits and blankets prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.” The remainder of the CWS blankets will continue to be distributed once they are able to operate their programs as usual, and the hygiene kits that were sent to the YCFB are now being added to the prepacked boxes they are distributing during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We know now more than ever; this is an added bonus to lessen the burden on people at this point in time. I was so glad we had some of the CWS Hygiene Kits remaining that we can distribute during the midst of this crisis.”
When discussing the use of the CWS Blankets and CWS Hygiene Kits at their facility, Zach wanted to take time to thank those that support the work of CWS and make it possible for their program participants to receive these. “It truly is impactful and the people that receive the kits can feel the love that comes through. I think there’s love that comes through to know that someone took the time to not only spend the money but to go shopping, pick out the items, to sit down and sort through the items and put them in the bags and seal them and ship them. There’s a process involved and the people that receive them can feel that love and that comes along with the kit. It’s not officially a part of the kit, but it comes along with the kit and I think they feel and know that and that’s really special.”
The compassionate action, unconditional love and helping hand that YCFB extend to those in need in their community make an impact that instills hope for all. “The CWS Kit and Blanket program are a vehicle to answer our call to action,” Zach expressed. Thank you to those who serve their communities and continue to be a light in the darkness, just as York Food Bank does.
To donate to the CWS Coronavirus Response Fund, which includes support for our CWS Kits and Blankets programs during this time of pandemic, please visit cwsglobal.org/coronavirus.
Rachel Kessel is a CWS Community Engagement Specialist in Michigan.