By Sandy Scarmack
Herald Staff Writer
MERCER COUNTY —
Directors of the Mercer County Community Food Warehouse are asking for help today in convincing Gov. Tom Corbett to provide enough money in the upcoming state budget to continue feeding some 4,000 families countywide.
Organizers of today’s statewide “call-in” day are urging supporters to send an email or call the governor and ask him to support a $21 million request for funding for the State Food Purchase Program, according to Mimi Prada, public relations coordinator.
The state food purchase program provides money to emergency food providers for the purchase, transportation, storage and distribution of food to the needy. The MCCFW has been designated by the county commissioners as the lead agency for this program locally.
Of the $16.8 million included in the 2013-14 budget, Mercer County received $179,971, according to Lori Weston, executive director of the food warehouse. That money is used to help the county’s 13 pantries and 31 agencies, which apply for a share of the grant and then use that money to purchase food for their programs. “It’s basically a line of credit that they get. We buy the food and they draw down on that to get the supplies they need,” Weston said.
The county’s share varies annually, she said, because it is based on poverty and unemployment levels.
The amount allocated for the state’s food purchase program hasn’t increased since 2006, Prada said, but the need continues to increase.
Food pantries and social service agencies in Mercer County serve about 4,000 homes, but there has been a recent increase in those seeking assistance after cuts were made to the food stamp program in November.
“I know of one pantry who said they’ve had seven new families call for help. Another woman called and said she was completely cut off from food stamps,” Prada said. “It seems like most of the calls that I received, of those who were hurt the worst, were those on disability,” she said.
Funding for the program has been level since about 2011, but there are now 700,000 more Pennsylvania residents who qualify for assistance.
“We’re very thankful that the program hasn’t been cut and we’re asking for $21 million this year to try and make up for past years when there was no increase,” Prada said.
Those who want to encourage Corbett to support the budget request can visit hungerfree.org and sign their name to a pre-written e-mail that will go to him or they can call his Harrisburg office at 717-787-2500 and voice their support.
His office received more than 300 emails during December and organizers said they hope to triple that number by the end of January.