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Sewickley Valley groups help families fill tables during holiday season

| Monday, Dec. 11, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

The way to a person's heart is through their stomach – and the hearts in Sewickley are full. With the holidays in full swing, the number of families struggling to get from one meal to the next continues to remain an issue throughout the region, and country.

Religious, nonprofit and educational groups in Sewickley are work — year-round —to combat hunger.

Barbara Cooley Thaw, of Union Aid Society in Sewickley, said that while the organization provides food assistance to residents in need residing the Quaker Valley School District throughout the year, they take a different approach during the holidays.

“We have a Thanksgiving gift card program as well as a holiday gift card program. Years ago, we offered food – canned goods, etc. – but came to realize that a gift card was easier for both the client and for us,” Thaw said. “People's dietary needs vary; having a gift card allows them to choose what is appropriate for their family.”

Angela Conigliaro, spokeswoman for Quaker Valley School District, said the middle school held a food drive before breaking for Thanksgiving.

“They collected over 1,090 canned items as a school. The food has been donated to the Sewickley Community Center. The winning class was presented with a giant tomato soup can made by teacher Jenna DiLoreto's father. We are planning to pass this on each year to the winning class – like the Stanley Cup of food drives,” Conigliaro said.

Karen Smearman, sixth grade English/language arts and social studies teacher was proud when her students won the challenge of collecting the most cans, and believes the experience will stay with the children for years.

“As a homeroom, the students really pulled through and worked together,” Smearman said. “They all got incredibly motivated by seeing each other bring in cans day after day. Although it made homeroom time chaotic, it was worth not only their excitement, but the heartfelt generosity that went with it.”

In November, members of the Sewickley United Methodist Church's outreach team requested Thanksgiving bags filled with non-perishable food items typically consumed for the holiday be donated for families in the area. St. James Catholic Church recently donated 100 turkeys to those in need, in addition to providing items year-round from their own food pantry, located in the church's basement.

According to information provided by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, 14.2 percent of Allegheny County is enduring food insecurity; among that percentage, 42,170 are children. The number of Allegheny County individuals living in poverty is 154,639, with 41,455 of those individuals being children under the age of 18.

Christina Sheleheda is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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