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Program ensures weekend food

| Saturday, April 27, 2013, 12:41 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Amanda and Gary Brougher of the Pittsburgh Dream Center sort through fresh fruit, juice boxes and snack items that are included in this weekend's distribution of Backpacks of Hope, a program that sends food home with Centennial Elementary students in need of food assurance.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
The Noone family of Plum volunteers with the Pittsburgh Dream Center to organize and package food included in this weekend's distribution of Backpacks of Hope, a program that sends food home with Centennial Elementary students in need of food assurance. From left are Kaitlyn, Jason, Amy, Morgan and Madelin.

The Pittsburgh Dream Center is giving food assurance to McKeesport Area students whose families may not be able to fill their plates on the weekend. A faith-based outreach, the Pittsburgh Dream Center has been working across the Mon Valley and in Pittsburgh's eastern suburbs to meet the needs of the communities it serves. Outreaches include the Adopt-A-Block community service program, which aides in property upkeep for businesses and homes; the Mobile Kids portable church, which brings a customized delivery truck to conduct vacation Bible school programs in low-income housing projects; and youth and senior outreaches that are intended to foster positive relationships.

Backpacks of Hope was initiated at the start of the 2012-13 school year, with the Pittsburgh Dream Center adopting Centennial Elementary as its first outreach building.

“This is our only food program right now,” co-facilitator Gary Brougher said. “We hope to expand it to serve more children in McKeesport and in more communities throughout the Mon Valley. This is really the focus area that the Lord has given us.”

Former White Oak residents who now live in McKeesport, Gary and Amanda Brougher returned to the Pittsburgh area after seven years in Oklahoma.

“We always had McKeesport on our hearts,” Gary Brougher said. “We knew the need. When we came back to start the Dream Center, we knew that in the Mon Valley there are a lot of issues we want to get involved with.”

Addressing the nutritional needs of students who are well fed with district breakfast and lunch programs, the Broughers said they wanted to send home enough food to get students through a weekend where the guarantee of food is less secure. Right now, approximately 20 students benefit from Backpacks of Hope.

“Our heart is to let children know they have value and that the community cares about them,” Amanda Brougher said. “The amount of need is far more than what we're doing right now. When you learn of these things right here in our own backyard, it compelled us to make a difference and do something for kids who need it.”

Through purchasing programs with Bottom Dollar and Whole Foods, the Pittsburgh Dream Center buys a variety of shelf-stable meals and fresh produce that serve as breakfast, lunch and dinner on Saturdays and Sundays.

“We do the same things each and every week,” Gary Brougher said. “That way there's consistency and kids get the food they like.”

With choices including canned pasta meals, beans, oatmeal, applesauce and oranges, the food is filling and fibrous to sustain children for the whole weekend.

As the program evolves, Amanda Brougher said, Backpacks of Hope can incorporate a variety of healthier options. But most of the food must remain shelf-stable and easy to prepare.

“We can't require elementary school children to have to turn on an oven,” she said. “Everything in the backpack can be eaten as is or heated in a microwave.”

The Broughers said they hope to expand the program as McKeesport Area students are aligned differently for the 2013-14 year.

“I would like to say ‘thank you' to the organization for choosing Centennial Elementary for the program this year,” principal Stacie Fitzpatrick said. “Especially in today's economy, it's nice to have organizations that are willing to give to students and families who might be less fortunate.”

As Backpacks of Hope grows, the Broughers said they would welcome local participation. Community service organizations and student groups are welcome to take part in the packaging process, which now relies on volunteers from Monroeville Assembly of God, where the Broughers are members.

“The McKeesport Area School District appreciates the hard work and dedication of the Backpacks of Hope food program and hopes the partnership will continue to grow in future years,” Superintendent Timothy Gabauer said. “Enhancing this outreach would create additional opportunities for the betterment of our students and families.”

Monetary donations to the Pittsburgh Dream Center can be mailed to P.O. Box 13, McKeesport, 15135. Secure online donations are accepted through PayPal at A Ride for the Dream fundraiser is a cycling event planned for September at the Waterfront. It will include a trail ride into Pittsburgh.

In time for the 2013-14 school year, the Backpacks for Hope program will be promoted on the website with preferred items for nonperishable food donation.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or

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