Connoquenessing Valley Community Chest raising funds for Meals on Wheels

| Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013, 12:05 a.m.

If not for the Connoquenessing Valley Community Chest, people would have to pay more for meals through Zelienople-Evans City Meals on Wheels, said Barbara Kaufman of Lancaster Township, director of the local Meals on Wheels.

The organization's 42 to 45 clients pay $20 a week for two meals a day, one cold and one hot, Mondays through Fridays.

About 110 volunteers work each month to pack, drive and deliver the meals. A cook is the only paid employee.

Last year, the Community Chest donated $5,140 to Meals on Wheels, “which helps us pay the bills and gives us a cushion” in case of equipment breakdown or replacement, Kaufman said.

The Connoquenessing Valley Community Chest kicks off its annual fundraising campaign Tuesday.

The goal is to raise $40,000 for five local organizations that serve the community, including Meals on Wheels and a new group added this year.

“We decided to add one, Parents in Toto, a new organization that works with kids on the autism spectrum,” said George Villegas Jr. of Zelienople, a member of the Community Chest board. Last year, the Community Chest's fundraising campaign raised $48,000.

In addition to Meals on Wheels and Parents in Toto, the campaign's other recipients will be the Community Park Association, the Zelienople Area Public Library and the Southwestern Butler County Food Cupboard, which serves the Zelienople and Harmony areas.

This Community Chest goes back 69 years and kept its nostalgic name, reminiscent of Monopoly spaces, after many similar organizations renamed themselves “The United Way.”

“We try to keep as much autonomy as possible,” said Community Chest board president Steven Casker, a Zelienople attorney who lives on the North Side.

“We're a bare-bones organization with very little overhead.”

The Connoquenessing Community Chest is part of the United Way, so people can designate donations to the Community Chest through the United Way umbrella.

“About five or six years ago, several board members had thought the Community Chest had run its course and were thinking of dismantling it.” Villegas said. “A few of us said, ‘No, it's a matter of redirecting what we're doing.' ”

Instead of simply mailing a letter to area residents and businesses, the board decided to get a little tech-savvy with a brochure, a website ( and credit-card and PayPal capabilities for online donations.

Villegas said donations are about evenly split between residents and businesses.

The Springfield Restaurant Group, which operates the Log Cabin Inn, the Iron Bridge and other local restaurants, offers gift certificate incentives for certain donation levels.

Mary Hess, a member of Zelienople borough council and a member of the Community Park Association board, said the park received $20,000 last year from the campaign.

“Five years ago, the park was in great disrepair,” she said. Since then, “we've been really working very hard to improve our community park.”

Hess said the park board has improved tennis courts and a playground and has renovated the snack bar.

“This year has been very tough for parks and pools” because of the rainy weather, she said. “We've been running short on cash,” a gap the Community Chest donation will help fill.

“It's an environment where everyone goes,” Hess said of the park, which sits in the middle of town on Beaver Street. “It's really kind of a ‘Mayberry' town, but kids get into trouble if they don't have something to do. The outpouring for this park has been phenomenal.”

The community likewise has responded to Meals on Wheels, which had been managed for 43 years by the Lutheran Service Society.

The English Evangelical Lutheran Church of Zelienople has taken on the organization as part of its ministry.

Insurance for the organization and the cook now goes through the church, where the Meals on Wheels cook prepares the meals.

For some clients, the Meals on Wheels volunteers may be the only people they see on a given day.

“The meals are important, but it's almost the daily contact that is even more important,” Kaufman said.

“It shows this is a community that comes together … that this community still has those Old-World values,” Villegas said. “Our slogan is, ‘You help make us a better community,' and that's really true.”

Sandra Fischione Donovan is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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