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StrongLand chamber seeks food items at annual expo

Brian C. Rittmeyer
| Friday, Jan. 23, 2009

Organizers of what is touted as the area's largest free-to-the-public home show are hoping to see it become the area's largest collection of food for the needy.

The StrongLand Chamber of Commerce is asking those attending its annual "HomeXpo" next month to bring non-perishable food or household items that will be given to the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank and the Westmoreland County Food Bank.

StrongLand's seventh home show is being held Feb. 6-8.

It's the second consecutive year that it is being held inside the Pittsburgh Mills mall.

But it's the first time a food drive has been included as part of the show.

"It's going to be one of the largest food drives anywhere," said StrongLand chamber President Allan Walzak. "I know the food cupboards are just about bare now. That's why we need to do it.

"There's a lot of people that have never gone to food banks before that are starting to go now from being unemployed or under-employed."

The two food banks combined serve the four-county area. Donors can specify where they want their donation to go, Walzak said.

With more than 40,000 expected to attend the three-day event, even if just a fourth of them bring canned goods, that could mean a donation of more than 10,000 food items, said event co-chairman Joe Ferguson.

"It's just one extra that the chamber of commerce wanted to do to show appreciation to everybody in the Valley for their support of the home show, and to help out," Ferguson said. "It's a great time to help out. There's a lot of needy people in this valley.

"The chamber is not just there for businesses. It's there for the community."

Jennifer Miller, development director for the Westmoreland County Food Bank, said she is "very grateful" for the chamber's effort.

Miller said need is increasing at the same time supplies are low.

"What they're doing for us is just phenomenal," she said. "We wish more organizations would do the same."

The food bank, the only one in Westmoreland County, serves about 15,000 people from 6,000 households each month. Food is distributed through about 55 pantries throughout the county.

"We know there's far more than that eligible who are not receiving our help," she said. "If all of those people came to seek assistance, we would not have near enough food to feed them."

The more than mile-long show will feature nearly 150 exhibits, an arts and crafts show, recreational boats and booths dealing with every aspect of home, garden and lifestyle.

The show is being built around the realistic needs of homeowners -- and non-homeowners, as well.

"With the economy the way it is and the way real estate has been going, it's a good time to place capital into your house," Walzak said. "It can only go up from here."

There will also be a free Kids' PlayZone with jumping rooms, play equipment, a confidence course and snacks.

"It's a great lineup," Ferguson said. "We feel this is going to be one of the greatest shows we've had."

Additional Information:

StrongLand HomeXpo

• When: Feb. 6-8

• Where: Pittsburgh Mills mall, Frazer

• Food donations sought: Visitors are asked to bring nonperishable food, paper products and cleaning supplies to help families in need.

Sponsors of this year's show are Trib Total Media (parent of the Valley News Dispatch), Comcast, Tees & Tops, Ferguson Heating and Air Conditioning, Thermo Twin Windows, Lisa Behe Agency - State Farm Insurance, and Classic Tent Rentals and Party Supplies.

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