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Westmoreland County Food Bank seeks volunteers for hunger study

| Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The Westmoreland County Food Bank is recruiting volunteers to conduct a hunger study data collection this spring and summer as part of a national project to develop comprehensive demographic profiles of people seeking food assistance.

The food bank in Salem is part of the Feeding America national network, which has conducted research every four years since 1993.

“I think it's a great tool. This (study) is held up and waved in the halls of Congress,” said Ross Fraser, Feeding America spokesman.

“It's the only study of its kind. It's the gold standard for research on hunger in America,” he said.

Information gleaned from Hunger in America 2014 will include the number of client households in which someone is employed, number of children, if someone is disabled, whether clients choose between medicine and food, and if they have access to a vehicle.

“What we have not asked about before is military service,” Fraser said.

The study is funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

Louise Wilhelm, Westmoreland food bank volunteer coordinator, and services and programs director Texie Waddell recently completed training with a new method of electronic data collection.

The tablet with touchscreen and headphones will offer participants privacy and confidentiality, Fraser said.

“We conducted 60,000 face-to-face interviews (nationally) in 2009,” Ross said. The study goal this year is 80,000 participants.

Wilhelm and Waddell said about 40 volunteers, including about 10 staff members, will be needed to conduct the local study. Training will be scheduled in March.

“We would like people to commit to doing several sites. A newly retired person with computer experience would be a perfect fit. They also need people skills,” Wilhelm said.

Volunteers must have transportation and be available to collect data for several hours, primarily on weekdays, between April and August.

Statistics from the 2010 study indicated a 46 percent increase in the number of people served by Feeding America's 200 food banks — from 25 million in 2005 to 37 million in 2009.

Study results indicated that the majority of clients were not seeking temporary relief.

“Instead, these food pantries are being accessed as a constant, supplemental food source,” it stated.

More than half of the 2009 study participants reported they had visited a food pantry for at least six months or more in the prior year. More than one-third said they sought assistance at least monthly.

“These long-term visitation patterns had already begun to emerge prior to the onset of the Great Recession, indicating that many pantry clients were already struggling to meet basic household needs upon entering the recession,” the study stated.

One statistic gleaned from the last national study determined that 56 percent of recent food pantry visitors were 65 and older, suggesting they are supplementing a shortfall in resources.

“What we see is that a good many clients use the food bank for temporary needs. We also have a good deal of elderly and disabled in our service area. That income is not going to change. Those clients return month after month,” Waddell said.

Volunteer applications are available on the food bank's website at www.westmorelandfoodbank.org.

Mary Pickels is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401or mpickels@tribweb.com.

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