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May 2, 2013

Food pantry fans’ efforts pay off

MERCER COUNTY — Grateful to the community for its “tremendous” support, Community Food Warehouse of Mercer County director Lori Weston said the agency took seventh place in a nationwide contest for part of a $3 million Wal-Mart grant.

Local voters went on the website daily in April and voted, Weston said, and though she hasn’t formally been notified by Wal-Mart she has received congratulatory messages from local Wal-Mart officials and from many of the other competing food banks.

“The smallest food bank with the smallest staff won. This is just amazing. We are so excited. When the public throws its support behind something, look what happens,” she said.

The money will be split among the top 40 vote-getters.

The local share will be about $45,000 and will be used to support the backpack program, which feeds qualifying students on the weekends. Weston said there are about 560 children in four school districts who often don’t eat between Friday school lunch and Monday morning breakfast.

Teachers were noticing the behavior of some of the children and suspected they were hungry. She said the behavior included grabbing leftovers on others’ plates, fighting to be first in line and acting distracted in class. Before the backpack program, teachers were paying out of their own pockets to give the students some snacks to get them through the weekend.

Now, rather than using a separate backpack, volunteers pack plastic bags to slip inside the students school bags, and give them single-size portions of things such cereal, milk, fruit cups, applesauce, peanut butter, pastas and juice. Occasionally, if someone donates fresh fruit such as apples or pears, they include that.

The program, including the funding, is handled by volunteers at the food warehouse, Weston said. With this money from Wal-Mart the program will be maintained and, Weston hopes, expan. It serves Hermitage, Sharon, Reynolds and West Middlesex schools. New Wilmington Area School District will be added in the fall.

“We had other food banks who were competing against us call and ask us how we did it. One of them missed it by three votes. We just have to thank the community,” she said.

She isn’t sure if the contest will happen again next year, but hopes it does.

The food warehouse is celebrating its 30th year and has a host of activities planned for the rest of the year, she said.

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