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Dieters step away from plate to help county food bank

| Sunday, April 29, 2012, 2:08 p.m.

If you're looking for added incentive to live up to that New Year's resolution to lose weight, there's a way to put those extra pounds to work feeding hungry neighbors.

The Westmoreland County Food Bank is participating in a new program called the Pound for Pound Challenge. Dieters register their weight loss on a Web site. For each pound lost, the food company General Mills will donate 10 cents to the dieter's local food bank, enough to buy a pound of food.

The program, which will be administered through a nationwide network of food banks called Feeding America, also is sponsored by the NBC reality show "The Biggest Loser," in which contestants compete to lose weight. It was timed to coincide with that show's latest season; participants could begin pledging in December, and the challenge will continue until April 27.

Jennifer Miller, developmental director for the Westmoreland County Food Bank, said the program could not come at a better time. With need up and donations down this year, the food bank needs all the help it can get.

"We went up by over a thousand families," she said. "And that's scary."

In January, the food bank will give out 7,080 boxes, said operations manager Kevin Povich. That is up from about 6,000 in a typical month.

"This is the worst I've ever seen it, without a doubt," Povich said.

Needy families get a box monthly containing between 50 and 75 pounds of food, Povich said. Items include canned fruits and vegetables, spaghetti and sauce, eggs, juice, bread and other baked goods, and frozen chicken.

With the price of many food products up this year, Povich said, the boxes became harder to fill. The food bank also relies on donations of surplus food from grocery suppliers, but those have decreased in the financial crisis, he said.

"They're tightening the belt too," Povich said. "And we feel the pinch."

Povich said losing weight is a perennial New Year's resolution, and he will participate in the Pound for Pound Challenge.

Rich Trinclisti, who manages the food pantry for the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Apollo, said he too would sign up for the weight-loss challenge.

"I'll do whatever I can to contribute to it," he said.

Trinclisti, who planned to distribute January's allotment at St. James Church on Friday morning, said that need had gone up drastically in the past few months as the economic crisis began to have an impact.

"Most of the new enrollees work every day," he said, "but they don't make enough money or their hours have been cut back."

Trinclisti, who has managed the food pantry for the past decade, said it was under more strain than ever. When he took over, only 36 families received food aid. Today, that number exceeds 200.

"We would really be in trouble if everybody that was eligible knocked on our door," he said.

Anyone interested in participating in the Pound for Pound Challenge can visit www.pfpchallenge.com and enter their weight loss goals. Shoppers also can mail in Pound for Pound seals from certain General Mills products, and for each seal received the company will donate another 10 cents to food banks.

General Mills expected to contribute up to $775,000 to Feeding America during the program. Feeding America will distribute the fund to local food banks based on participants' ZIP codes.

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