January Member Spotlight:
Westmoreland County Community Food Bank
The Mission of the Westmoreland County Food Bank is to enable all residents who are hungry or at risk of hunger to have ready access to food.
The Food Bank’s Guiding Principles are incorporated through our every-day work in fighting hunger, not just with food but also with knowledge of the issue. We are mission passionate for feeding those who are hungry or at risk of hunger to have ready access to food. We act with integrity as we steward the resources entrusted to us. We serve our consumers compassionately and free of prejudice. We value collaborative partnerships, both internally and externally, which is the lifeline of our success.
The Westmoreland County Food Bank (WCFB) has been a beacon of hope for thousands of food-insecure households throughout the county for more than three decades. Established in March 1982, the Food Bank distributed 2,000 pounds of food in its first year of operation. Today, the organization supplies well over 7,000,000 pounds of food annually to residents via a network of partner agencies situated throughout Westmoreland County. Located in Delmont, WCFB has a staff of 23 individuals and relies heavily on the nearly 7,000 volunteers that contribute close to 100,000 total hours of service each year.
During the first 18 years of operation, the Westmoreland County Food Bank functioned as a partner distribution organization of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Then in 2000, after a rigorous certification process, WCFB achieved affiliate status from Feeding America – the premier nationwide network of food banks. More than a decade later, in 2012, the Westmoreland County Food Bank passed the meticulous inspection process overseen by the Association of International Bakers, which maintains private standards for good manufacturing practices and prerequisites and food safety programs.
The Food Bank has continued to seamlessly pass these inspections with impeccable reviews. WCFB not only strives to be a leader in food banking but also achieves the highest of industry standards while serving the community.
Finally, the Westmoreland County Food Bank works diligently to maintain operational accountability and fiscal responsibility. In addition to meeting the credentials required to be a Feeding America member and secure AIB certification, the Food Bank also completed the laborious process to achieve the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations (PANO) Standards for Excellence accreditation. Furthermore, the organization recently achieved the highly coveted four-star rating from Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity evaluator. In addition to the aforementioned affiliations, the Westmoreland County Food Bank is also active with state associations Feeding Pennsylvania and Hunger-Free Pennsylvania, as well as the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania.
In order to effectively serve the community, the Westmoreland County Food Bank follows an allocation method of food distribution. This practice is driven by the Food Bank to distribute commodities to pantries, rather than allowing pantries to select the items that they want to supply to clients. As a result, the organization is able to minimize costs and increase the amount of food being delivered to households in need.
Beyond the monthly Food Pantry Distribution Program, the Food Bank also offers an array of programs that support specific groups throughout Westmoreland County. Such programs include the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP/Senior Food Box Program), a federally-funded program administered by the PA Department of Agriculture, which provides approximately 1,300 low-income seniors, age 60 and over, with food. The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), a federally funded program administered by the PA Department of Education, ensures that roughly 300 needy children receive nutritional breakfasts and lunches during the summer months when they are not in school. Operation Fresh Express (OFE) supplies extra perishable and close-date items to households receiving food from local pantries. Not only does this program supplement the monthly food box, but also strives to eliminate food waste by retailers, manufacturers, and the Food Bank. The Westmoreland County Food Bank was also able to secure funding to reactivate the weekend Backpack Program in 2015. Currently, this program supplies two days of meals to over 320 children from seven schools within Westmoreland County. The children are eligible to receive the meal packs based on household income as determined by their enrollment in the National School Lunch Program. The program combats child hunger by supplying children with meals for the weekend when they are not in school. Finally, at the end of 2016, the Food Bank will launch the Military Share Program, to support food insecure military families. The organization is working with armories and Veteran’s organizations located in Westmoreland County and hopes to continue to expand to serve more families and possibly collaborate with other agencies to reach veterans.
In addition to food distribution programs, the Westmoreland County Food Bank provides SNAP outreach to eligible residents throughout Westmoreland County. For this service, staff educates the community on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps) benefits and eligibility, as well as provides application assistance. Since launching, this program has submitted over 1,300 SNAP applications on behalf of food-insecure persons in Westmoreland County – equivalent to 1,264,818 meals and providing $6,057,719 in local economic activity. In all, this program works to ensure households have ample food and do not go hungry. Through the pursuit of the organizational mission, the Food Bank evaluates programs each year and measures a variety of operational activities, including the number of persons and households served, food poundage secured via donation and distributed, the number of functioning partner agencies, volunteers utilized, and hours donated. Additionally, the organization performs client surveys each year. These questionnaires take place at food pantries and on-site feeding programs within the county under the direction of the Food Bank. From there, the agency is able to collect responses directly from clients with regard to their knowledge about WCFB programs and resources, level of satisfaction among the services that they access, and the impact that the assistance has on their household. This feedback allows the Food Bank to gauge the effectiveness of programs and services and determine whether modifications are needed in order to effectively serve food insecure persons throughout the community.
2020 was a challenging year. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in high unemployment rates and economic uncertainty. People who have never previously been food insecure have found themselves seeking services to feed their families and the Food Bank is continuing to see increased participation levels at food pantries. The Westmoreland County Food Bank quickly and drastically modified our operations to ensure that we could meet the increase in demand from those seeking charitable food assistance. To comply with social distancing, the Food Bank made the decision to prepackage all food into family-sized boxes at our Delmont warehouse using the assistance of hundreds of volunteers. These prepackaged boxes are delivered directly to the food
pantries, which allows our agency network to remain operational and to distribute in a low touch, drive through manner. The Food Bank refers consumers to the agency location closest to their home in an effort to avoid wasting resources, traveling long distances, and waiting in extensive lines for food assistance. The Food Bank is also providing food for emergency circumstances directly from our warehouse, daily. Modifying operations in this manner was unprecedented and has created challenges, both financially and logistically.
We support our local Chamber and have been involved in many Business after Hours events and other special events. The Chamber is a beneficial partnership for the WCFB because they provide opportunities to network with other industries and professional organizations within the community. This allows us to continue to expand r for the good of our consumers/customers.
The WCFB has been a member of the GLLV Chamber since 2002!