COAL TOWNSHIP — Coordinators for the Our Lady of Hope Food Pantry say volunteers, monetary donations and non-perishable food are needed to ensure the longevity of the food distribution program.

Susan Christiana and Bill Long said Wednesday that the quality and diversity of food provided by the Williamsport branch of the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank has decreased since the church began the program some 10 years ago. A freezer and two of three refrigerators are unplugged because there is nothing to put in them.

The pantry, which serves low-income families and individuals, is held the first and third Tuesday of the month on the second floor of the former Queen of Peace School on Chestnut Street. On June 19, 49 families for a total of 265 people were provided food. As many as 125 families have been the beneficiaries of the program. To be eligible a photo ID, proof of income and utility bill used as proof of residency are required upon entry.

The pantry relies primarily on donations from the food bank which, according to the organization’s website, distributes more than 48 million pounds of food and grocery products a year to more than 900 organizations throughout the state. It operates the Fresh Express Program, which receives millions of pounds of fresh produce and dairy products from local and national donors. Depending on the harvest season, a variety of perishable items, such as fruits, vegetables and yogurt, are distributed.

Christiana and Long said that up until around two years ago the pantry received upward of 40 cases of mixed groceries from the Harrisburg branch of the food bank. The pantry has received mostly vegetables and fruits — some of it spoiled — from the Williamsport branch since the Fresh Express Program started, they said.

“It’s so different now. We will get eight different things and a lot of one thing,” Long said. “Sometimes we will get three skids, and one will be all crackers or chips. We just received a watermelon box filled with granola bars.”

The coordinators commented that the pantry does on occasion receive acceptable items, for example ears of corn and apples, but often fruits and vegetables are thrown away because they are already spoiled at the time of delivery, which occurs the day the pantry opens to the public. They added that perishable items left over following distribution and are not likely to hold for another two weeks are donated to the Shepherd’s Table, a separate program held at the church’s parish hall.

“The government went to Fresh Express because it felt people should be eating more healthy, but people don’t want that type of food. The government offers free things, like butter in a 50-pound block or 50-pounds of onions, but we can’t use anything like that. What are people going to do, eat an onion sandwich?” Christiana said. “We just got a lot of Abodo seasoning. What the heck do we need seasoning for if (needy people) have nothing to put it on?”

She said popular items requested at the pantry include Hamburger Helper, pasta, sauces, instant potatoes, soup, peanut butter and cereal for children.

The food bank offers to organizations a wholesale food purchase program, which sells wholesale inventory at a “greatly reduced cost,” but Christiana said the church no longer has funds to place those type of orders.

The pantry has only made two orders in 10 years: one for $780 and another for $100, the last of which was made about four months ago for items such as peanut butter, hog dogs and fish.

Aside from a lack of non-perishable food, Christiana said the pantry is also in need of volunteers. A small group meets between 9 and 10 a.m. on distribution day to unload a truck from Williamsport, which requires volunteers to climb 15 steps of the former school. Additional tasks throughout the day include re-packaging bulk items, placing food on tables and assisting in the distribution. There is no minimum time requirement and members need not be members of the church.

“We will take anyone who is willing to help unload. It takes about 30 minutes,” she said. “It is hard for some people to walk up those steps with boxes.”

Christiana stressed that the pantry is separate from the Shepherd’s Table and that people wanting to make donations or lend a hand can call her at 570-259-1734 or the parish at 570-648-4432 and should specify they want to help the pantry.

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