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Price increases keep local food banks busy

Photo by Fiorella Otero
State College Area Food Bank volunteers Emily Filling and Diane Meckes bag donations.

by David Reinbold


With the price of food—and seemingly everything else—on the rise, an increasing number of Centre County residents are turning to local food banks to relieve some of the burden.

“Now is a heavy time for frequency of use,” said State College Area Food Bank Executive Director Linda Tataliba. “We’ve seen a 12 percent increase in frequency of use from 2006 to 2007.”

Tataliba said she expects an even greater increase from 2007 to 2008.

Nicole Summers, executive director of Faith Centre Food Bank in Bellefonte, said she has noticed similar trends.

“The topic has been quite an area of concern for us,” Summers said. “Compared to June of last year, we’re serving about 100 more people per month.”

The rising cost of living, the closure of Bolton Metal Products and a generally unfavorable job market place Bellefonte at the forefront of need, Summers said.

Despite all of this, donations continue to come in at a steady—albeit moderate—rate.

“With the national media covering the food price crisis, we’ve actually seen a steady supply of donations,” Tataliba said. “People know that there is a need for this.”

But it’s hard to say how long that will last.

It’s going to be quite scary in the winter,” Summers said. “We’re not sure what to expect.”

Individuals earning less than $15,315 a year and families of four with an annual income of less than $30,975 qualify for the food bank’s services. A supply of food usually lasts about a week, Tataliba said.

Clients can only receive food aid six times in a 12-month period. If additional aid is needed, clients must obtain a referral through an outside agency.

In addition to individual donations, the State College Area Food Bank receives about 70 percent of its food from area businesses, including Giant, Weis and Wegmans supermarkets and Panera Bread.

Tataliba said the food bank strives to provide a diverse array of food for clients with varying needs and tastes.

“The needs of an individual are not the same as the needs of a family of four,” she said.

The food bank even puts together special holiday packages. For Independence Day, packages filled with picnic items were available.

The State College Area Food Bank is the largest food bank in Centre County. It gave out more than 11,000 bags of groceries to more than 2,200 clients in 2007. Of those clients, 42 percent were below the age of 17.

The State College food bank also donates some of its surplus to the eight other county food banks.

As need rises and donations begin to build up, food banks are faced with a difficult question: where to store all of the food.

Because of space constraints, the best thing people can donate to food banks are gift cards to local grocery stores, Tataliba said.

This allows us to purchase items we’re in need of,” Tataliba said in her office, packed floor to ceiling with boxes of food. “Gift cards are also a lot easier to store.”

The increases at the aisle and pump are having ripple effects on nearly every aspect of operation at area food banks, including their driving force: volunteers. Faith Centre Food Bank has a 15-person volunteer base.

“Our volunteers are mostly elderly people, so we’re looking at reimbursing them for gas,” Summers said. “We don’t want to punish our volunteers by making it economically difficult for them to give their time.”

Five-year volunteer Sally McCartney takes her job very seriously. She understands that her work can make a dramatic difference in the quality of a community member’s life.

“What I’ve been noticing lately is our working families are being affected,” McCartney said. “This isn’t a permanent solution, but we’re here to lean on when you need it.”

Bellefonte resident Tammy Wales has been going to Faith Centre for two years, since her partner passed away, leaving her with a limited source of income.

“It has helped me real well—getting fresh bread and other things,” Wales said. “They try to give out pretty nutritional food, and it can go a long way.”

Food bank hours are pretty erratic, and it can be hard for Centre County residents to utilize the resources when they need them.

“We try to have hours that coincide with those of working families,” McCartney said. “We’re currently open until 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays so people can visit us after work.”

In an emergency, residents can acquire food through the Community Help Centre in State College.


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