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Westmoreland County Food Bank begins outreach program

| Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013, 12:52 a.m.

Nearly three-fourths of qualified households in four northeastern Westmoreland County communities are not receiving the food assistance for which they're eligible, according to county food bank estimates.

Westmoreland County Food Bank officials hope to change that through a two-year outreach effort that begins this month at food pantries that serve New Kensington, Arnold, Lower Burrell and Upper Burrell.

Out of nearly 4,000 eligible households, about 915 families visit the pantries monthly, according to food bank data.

“We want to make sure that our mission is being met,” said Texie Waddell, the food bank's director of agency services and programs. “If there are people who aren't able to put enough food on their table through their own means, we want to make sure that they know what the food bank is, what it does and how they can get help.”

The outreach effort stems from a 2007 study in which the food bank determined there were 40,000 people in its service area who qualified for, but were not receiving, food assistance.

That was in addition to the 15,000 the food bank already served.

Following the study, the Westmoreland County Food Bank aligned its outreach plan with that used by Feeding America, a national nonprofit dedicated to reducing hunger in the United States.

More recent data estimates there were nearly 44,000 “food insecure” individuals in Westmoreland County in 2010, the most recent data available from Feeding America.

Food insecurity is defined as someone who sometimes has to choose between buying food and paying for other basic needs.

“Our numbers increase monthly with the economic conditions as they are,” said Larry Kupec, co-coordinator of the food pantry at St. Margaret Mary Church in Lower Burrell.

That's a sign that outreach efforts are needed, he said, because for as many who get help, there are many others that don't.

“There are more people who don't have the resources,” said Kupec, who runs the pantry with his wife, Rosalie. “We're serving a vital need in the community.”

When the outreach effort started in 2009-10, the food bank focused on the Jeannette area and added nearly 400 new households. Then in 2011-12, an additional 425 households in the Mt. Pleasant area began receiving food assistance following outreach there.

The food bank will work with its pantries in the Alle-Kiski Valley to make sure they're operating efficiently and can handle an increase in people, Waddell said.

“To make sure we have the food we need to serve them, we've been doing food drives and fundraising,” she said.

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or jweigand@tribweb.com.

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