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Valley grad to help stock the shelves

| Friday, Dec. 14, 2007

Former Valley High School and University of New Hampshire football standout Baron Flenory Jr. will sponsor a food drive later this month at a Pittsburgh martini bar to benefit Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

The New Kensington native, who lives and runs a business in Philadelphia, will co-host the invitation-only soiree on Dec. 23 at Olive Or Twist along Sixth Street.

"The purpose is to attract young successful people -- many of whom are home for the holidays -- to bring canned goods to the event," Flenory said. "When we come back, we hear a lot of negative things being said about our city. But there are a lot of young, successful people out there who are giving back to the community."

Flenory anticipates that about 300 people will attend. Notable names on the guest list are Pittsburgh Steelers Willie Colon and Willie Parker and the founders of Jenesis Magazine.

An article about the food bank's struggles turned on Flenory to the idea of helping out.

"After I read that article, I knew there was a need," he said. "I figured that there's no better way to celebrate success than giving back to people who are less fortunate."

Iris Valanti, spokeswoman for the food bank, said similar events help make the agency's mission possible. During November and December, she said, from 30 to 50 food drives and fundraisers are hosted by people and groups wanting to support the food bank.

"The need is certainly higher this time of year, mainly due to high heating bills and the pressure of the holidays," Valanti said. "So, we appreciate these fall and winter food drives very much."

Reduced support

Valanti said the food bank has seen a decrease in state and federal support, which makes it difficult to provide for needy families.

She said the state cut about $150,000 in funding from its food purchase program -- money that supports the 11-county service area in southwestern Pennsylvania. About half of that was money headed for Allegheny County, she said.

Valanti couldn't say how much state funding, all told, supports the service area.

She also said less food being purchased by the federal government from farmers and delivered to community food banks put a dent in Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank's operation.

"We're down about $500,000 worth of commodity food," she said.

Valanti said the food bank needs donations. Studies show, she said, that a high percentage of families who could benefit from food bank services aren't being reached.

Still, Valanti said that while donations and support are dwindling, the food bank "is not cutting back service."

Other local food bank officials said they, too, are struggling this time of year.

Karen Snair, Allegheny Valley Association of Churches food bank director, said more families are seeking support while donations are in short supply.

"Our numbers this year are the highest they've ever been," she said. "We have more than 500 (families) on our register."

Snair said more families have signed for help each year since the food bank moved to a new location in the Natrona Heights section of Harrison in 2002.

"It jumped 25 percent the first year," she said. "I guess it was because we became more visible."

One nonperishable food item the food bank has had a hard time getting is soup, she said.

A social worker with the Salvation Army in Kittanning said the church also is having a hard time collecting supplies.

"Right now, things are pretty low," social worker Gail Adams said. She said more families seek help around the holidays.

She also said high gasoline prices are a factor in more families asking for help.

Notable exception

One local food bank that didn't report a shortage was the Lower Valley Association of Churches food bank, which operates out of the Springdale Borough Building.

"Things are going very well," coordinator Kathy Otterbeck said. "We are blessed every holiday. It seems like we always have enough to give out."

She added, "But there are times when we're scraping to get by."

The food bank held its annual Christmas distribution on Thursday. Otterbeck said 165 families registered for the event.

Otterbeck said the surge in families seeking help begins in October.

"When it comes to the holidays, there are a lot of added expenses," Otterbeck said. "People need that extra help to get by."

Additional Information:

Not invited?

Baron Flenory Jr., who is co-hosting a food drive in Pittsburgh on Dec. 23, said it might be possible for people to attend who were not invited -- if they bring a canned good, adhere to the business casual dress code, and space permits.

Anyone interested in attending should call Flenory at 724-469-0831.

How to help

Several local food banks say they need donations -- not just during the holidays, but year-round. Here's a look at some Alle-Kiski Valley food banks and their collection information.

Allegheny County

• Allegheny Valley Association of Churches, 1913 Freeport Road, Harrison. Donations can be dropped off from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Distributions are from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Wednesdays.

• Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank sponsors numerous food pantries in the Valley. Visit www.pittsburghfoodbank.org to find a local one. The Web site has links for local pantries and how to donate.

• Lower Valley Association of Churches, 325 School St., Springdale. Donations can be dropped off from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Distributions are from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month.

• Riverview Community Action Corp., 501 Second St., Oakmont. Donations can be dropped off from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Distributions are done by appointment during the same hours. Call 412-828-1062 for an appointment.

Armstrong County

• Salvation Army, 205 S. Jefferson St., Kittanning. The food bank is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

• Armstrong County Community Action Corp. supports more than 20 food banks in the county. Locally, for donations and distributions, they are:

• Glenn Bush Ford, Route 56, Apollo, from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. on the third Wednesday of the month.

• Bethel Township fire department, 133 Bethel Church Road, Bethel, from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on the last Tuesday.

• Ford City Memorial United Methodist Church, 1024 Fourth Ave., from noon to 3:00 p.m. on the second and fourth Fridays.

• Holy Trinity School in Ford City from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on the last Tuesday.

• Freeport VFW, 102 Fifth St., from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on the third Tuesday.

• Grace Presbyterian Church, 150 N. Jefferson St., Kittanning, from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. on the last Tuesday.

• First United Methodist Church, 251 Main St., Leechburg, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on the second Tuesday.

Westmoreland County

• Salvation Army, Fifth Avenue at 11th Street, New Kensington. Donation and distribution times were not available. The Salvation Army in Vandergrift also operates a food bank. Information for that location was not available.

• United Presbyterian Church, 601 Fifth Ave., New Kensington. Donations can be dropped off from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

• Westmoreland County Food Bank sponsors numerous food pantries in the Valley. Visit www.westmorelandfoodbank.org to find a local one. The Web site has links for pantries and how to donate.

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