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State makes it easier to get food to people in need

March 31, 2020 Digital Media Exclusive

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FILE — Sue Leinbach, a credentialing specialist for the Alliance for Nonprofit Resources, prepares a pallet of food in February for distribution to one of the county's 28 food pantries.

The state is cutting some red tape and the middleman to help people continue amid the closing of several food distribution services in the county over coronavirus precautions.

Over the last two weeks, Butler Meals on Wheels, which served the city and township, and the Light of Life Community Outreach announced they would be closing indefinitely over safety concerns related to the spread of the virus.

On Monday, the Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding received federal approval for the state Department of Agriculture to operate a Disaster Household Distribution program.

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The move gives the state's 18 food banks increased flexibility to distribute food. In Butler, the Alliance for Nonprofit Resources serves as the county's distribution center. Organizers with the group couldn't be reached for comment.

Sheila Christopher, the executive director of Hunger-Free Pennsylvania, said the move was welcomed as it would simplify the process needed for people to get food. Hunger-Free Pennsylvania, the state's single largest nonprofit provider of food resources and meals, oversees food banks.

“We've definitely dumbed down our system,” Christopher said.

Before federal approval, food banks served as “big commercial warehouses where shipments would come in” and they would then send the food out to pantries where low-income people would go for their needs.

Now, the food banks pack boxes directly in their warehouses for families to pick up.

Also, the state will temporarily waive the need for income eligibility paperwork to be filled out in order to receive USDA foods delivered to the state.

But that's not the only source of support.

The PNC Foundation donated $1 million to United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania to create the Students and Families Food Relief Fund. The fund will help families facing food insecurity in Allegheny, Butler, Westmoreland and Fayette counties.

United Way will partner with Eat'n Park Hospitality Group and other neighborhood partners to provide more than 250,000 meals to schoolchildren and their families in communities, according to a news release. The program will step in to assist not only with weekday meals but also will fill a gap for weekend service which government reimbursements do not provide.

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