Food Hub offers nutritious products, educational twists

se associate with the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, was one of several staffers providing tours of the new Williamsport Food Hub facility on Wahoo Drive Monday. The group here is in the storage area where food awaits distribution to the needy through partnering agencies such as the American Rescue Workers and Salvation Army.

Avocadoes and apples chilled in new refrigerators. Fresh greenery was positioned in pallets waiting for hungry mouths.

This wasn’t produce that was headed to a local grocery store, but rather healthy foods to be distributed to hungry local families in the city and region.

“Our goal is to reach as many as we can until no one is hungry,” said Joe Arthur, executive director of the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank at the “bold opening” Monday of Williamsport’s Health Food Hub at 3301 Wahoo Drive.

The hub is unique for the city and region not only because of the quality products that are going to families in need, but also for a kitchen doubling as a classroom where local chefs will discuss how to best prepare healthy food for nutritious meals, he said.

During the tour of the warehouse, which feeds an estimated 400,000 people with food mostly donated by area food markets, dozens of pallets were filled to the brim with groceries.

“We have fresh produce including apples from area orchards,” said Jeremy Pearson, a warehouse associate and tour guide.

The food bank services 27 counties, and this is the week that is among the busiest as food pantries and service agencies stock their shelves, he said.

For example, this week staff and volunteers were providing a box of food estimated to reach 1,000 neighbors in need in collaboration with the American Rescue Workers.

The need is only growing, and, in fact, is estimated to double by 2025, Arthur said.

Many of the estimated 5,000 volunteers, such as Bert Lee, 82, of Patton, a small community of 3,000 people near Altoona, do the “nitty gritty” work.

Inside the demo kitchen, the food bank has partnered with STEP Inc. and chef Abby Eschbach who will run a workshop to teach seniors and younger adults how to plan and prepare healthy alternatives and meals using the produce and food available locally. The kitchen also will host local chefs to educate the food bank’s partner agencies on how to cook with food available at the food bank.

It is the hope that through this modern warehouse, with its eager staff and volunteers, agencies such as the American Rescue Workers, Salvation Army and area food pantries will be better stocked, Arthur said.

The food bank distributes more than 48 million pounds of food and grocery products, equivalent to more than 40 million meals, every year to more than 900 soup kitchens, shelters and food pantries in 27 central Pennsylvania counties.

In the food bank’s 27-county service area, a recent study revealed that approximately 18 percent of children under the age of 18, more than 121,000, are struggling with hunger.

The biggest challenge remains getting the food needed to the rural areas of these Pennsylvania counties, Arthur said.

With the supply of trucks and staff at the ready, that challenge is made a bit easier, he said.

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