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Food hub still a possibility in Jeannette

| Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Tay Waltenbaugh and Jack Brown of Westmoreland Community Action listen to a presentation at a Neighbor Partnership Program meeting.
Margie Stanislaw | For Trib Total Media
Tay Waltenbaugh and Jack Brown of Westmoreland Community Action listen to a presentation at a Neighbor Partnership Program meeting.

A food hub project is still in the works with the Neighborhood Partnership Program (NPP), according to Tay Waltenbaugh, director of Westmoreland Community Action (WCA).

“There are still a lot of moving parts in regard to the food hub. Right now we are waiting for approval from the state on continuation of the tax-credit program,” said Waltenbaugh.

NPP is a state tax credit program where major employers in Jeannette donate tax dollars for beautification and improvement programs in city. The state approved the program last year and approximately $100,000 was funneled into beautification projects in the city through WCA. Although the program is set for at least five years, it must be approved every year.

Rich Dieter of Crescendo Group Consultants gave a presentation that included information on how a food hub would bring fresh produce from local farms in the tri-state area into the City of Jeannette.

The food hub would be called Jeannette Food Enterprise Center and it would make it possible for farmers and growers to get fresh locally grown food to customers in a quick and efficient manner.

According to the presentation, the current food supply chain often marginalizes local growers and makes it harder for local food to get to market. The food hub would potentially bring customers from all over the region into the city to shop.

The hub could house a commercial kitchen and have an educational component.

“We will need to partner with local businesses to offer our services,” said Waltenbaugh.

Commercial kitchens can be used for endeavors such as making private label food products for local businesses, to usage by small businesses that don't have kitchen facilities that make a specific food product such as frozen cheesecakes or pies that have been pre-ordered.

“The business plan is close to being 90 percent done. The plan would be to hire 32 people and be profitable by the end of the fourth year,” said Waltenbaugh.

“Seventy-five percent of the hires would be low-income people and 50 percent would be female heads of household that are living in poverty. That is an agency rule.”

Female heads of household make up 42 percent of low-income families in Westmoreland County.

Nearly two-thirds of the kitchen equipment needed for the food hub has been secured.

The Elliott Company donated all of its older commercial kitchen equipment when they remodeled and Excela Health also gave WCA permission to remove the commercial kitchen equipment from the now- defunct Jeannette Hospital for the project.

Waltenbaugh and WCA are in the process of looking for additional funding sources. He has a site in mind, but it is contingent on grant funding through Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

“We need everything to fall in line. Jeannette deserves an opportunity like this,” said Waltenbaugh.

Margie Stanislaw is a contributing writer.

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