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First Friday to mobilize for hungry

| Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Louis B. Ruediger | Leader Times
Mark Holzwarth of Vandergrift meets the LA Taco truck in West Kittanning Wednesday September 4, 2013 while on his lunch break with Lowes Delivery service. Local food truck vendors are gathering together Friday eveing at North Grant and Market Street in Kittanning for a canned food drive.

A local food truck operator hopes to celebrate a love of food while supplying it to the less fortunate during the inaugural First Friday canned food drive.

The LA Taco food truck, along with a half-dozen other mobile restaurateurs, plan to host the event, which will feature live music and prizes at the intersection of North Grant and Market streets in Kittanning from 5 to 10 p.m.

Walter Aguirre, owner of the LA Taco truck, said he hopes a variety of cuisines will attract not only a large crowd, but a large number of donations for the Armstrong County Community Action Program's food bank.

“People are struggling, and we need to help each other out, so I thought food brings communities and people together,” Aguirre said. “We realized they were experiencing a shortage of food, so we want to come together to replenish the food bank with something big.”

Organizers plan to host a variety of food vendors, with cuisine ranging from ribs and pierogies to South American and Asian fare, along with several desserts, with musical performances by the Shiners, the Molrowers, Jen & Steve and DJ Kevin Kline, Aguirre said.

Robin Rainey, director of family services at Armstrong County Community Action, said food collections, such as the First Friday event, help ensure the food bank's shelves stay stocked, especially its emergency reserves.

“A lot of times, these events stock our emergency pantry, since the food we purchase through the state goes to the local pantries for regular distribution,” Rainey said. “The emergency pantry is available for people who are dealing with fires or other difficult, unexpected situations.”

According to a report from the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and the Armstrong County Community Action Program, 9,130 people, or approximately 13.1 percent of Armstrong's population, are eligible for assistance from the food bank. About 8,330 people, or 12.2 percent of the population, live in poverty.

The two groups served 3,200 people throughout Armstrong County in January, with approximately 65 first-time recipients. During the 2011-12 fiscal year, more than 1 million pounds of food were distributed to individuals and agencies throughout Armstrong County.

Armstrong County received $73,255 in state funding to purchase food during the 2012-13 fiscal year, which was a $23,021 decrease from the previous fiscal year, according to the report.

Despite the decrease in funding, Rainey said food bank officials have never turned anyone away.

“There is a little more of a need — we always see new families each month, but we also see families who drop out,” Rainey said. “These collections are always a big help, and we always seem to be able to keep the shelves of the food pantry stocked.”

Depending on the success of the event, Aguirre said, he hopes to organize similar events to benefit a variety of charities. In October, he plans to host a food truck event to raise money for breast cancer research, and another food drive in November.

“We just want to have the trucks out and have a good time, while doing something charitable,” Aguirre said.

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1337, or bpedersen@tribweb.com.

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