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Giving hearts pull food bank through difficult times

| Thursday, May 10, 2012, 10:01 p.m.

A year ago Marlene Kozak wasn't sure how the Westmoreland County Food Bank would make ends meet.

The 21-year-old nonprofit agency that helps feed thousands of needy families was short on cash and food. At the start of the year, the agency's $1.6 million budget, strongly dependent on government support, took a $170,000 cut. At the same time, requests for food increased 12 percent.

But along the way something happened.

Contributions from local food donors, such as major grocery chains, increased a half-million pounds. Several groups launched new benefits to support the agency. Unsolicited contributions increased 48 percent, and volunteer hours increased by 15 percent.

"The community has just supported us in every way. I'm in awe of how people have responded to the crisis we had," said Kozak, executive director of the food bank.

She speculated that the agency's ties, to groups ranging from churches and shelters to the Salvation Army and the Red Cross, made it an organization whose support cuts across special-interest group lines.

But Kozak said government funding shortfalls haven't eased.

"And people still have to eat, 365 days a year," she said.

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