Wright Center/Weinberg Food Bank Feeds NEPA Families

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Families throughout Northeast Pennsylvania are struggling to put food on their tables. The lingering supply-chain effects from the COVID-19 pandemic and the surging rate of inflation, combined with the rising costs of food, gasoline and medicine, are forcing many families to choose between those three essential items. Sadly, many times food becomes the item families skimp on.

The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Northeast Regional Food Bank and The Wright Center for Community Health partnered several years ago to provide food to underserved areas of Lackawanna and Luzerne counties where food pantries aren’t as plentiful.

“We’re doing it together. The Weinberg Foundation has been wonderful to work with. They get grants and donations for food. I reach out to Mary Ellen Spellman when we need to distribute food and she gets the order together for us,” explained Gerri McAndrew, co-director of Patient & Community Engagement at The Wright Center for Community Health.

McAndrew works out of The Wright Center’s Mid Valley Practice in Jermyn and oversees the organization’s food pantry and donation schedule. Donations of food, hygiene supplies and children’s backpacks are stored in what the Mid Valley staff refers to as “Gerri’s She Shed,” a shed housing refrigerators, freezers and storage shelves to properly stock and organize all the donations.

“We have food drives for as many families as need it. Usually there are 30 families in the up-valley area who need food, but The Weinberg Foundation supplies us with enough food to accommodate 50 families,” McAndrew explained. “We have employee volunteers who organize and pack the food into bags and another group of employees who load the groceries in the families’ trunks, gather their information, and they’re on their way.”

McAndrew stresses that no one who needs food will ever be turned away, and recipients do not have to be patients. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the drive-thru food pantries are only being held at the Jermyn location. She sends food to The Wright Center’s clinical locations in Clarks Summit, Scranton and Kingston for distribution there when needed. “We don’t want families driving all the way up here, especially with the price of gas,” she added.

Thanks to donations from The Weinberg Foundation, The Wright Center’s staff provides three or four heaping bags of nutritious foods to each recipient. A typical donation will include fresh fruits and vegetables, such as apples, zucchini and rutabagas; frozen meats such as ground beef and pork tenderloin; block and shredded cheese; milk; canned vegetables and dried fruits.

“The Weinberg Foundation always gives us a generous supply of fresh and canned foods and dairy and I think that’s great. A lot of people and businesses donate canned goods which we appreciate,” said McAndrew. “Groceries have gotten so much more expensive. Not that everyone we help is on a fixed income, but some of these people must make a choice between their food and medicines.”

At a food pantry day in May, one woman told McAndrew, “I need a cow with my children. You don’t know how much milk I go through.” Even if the donated food helps them for one week, it’s a week that parents do not have to worry about what or how to feed their children.

It isn’t just families that benefit from the food pantry. Many recipients are older individuals who are on fixed incomes that don’t cover all their expenses. “We have an older couple who lives next door to us here in Jermyn, and when I’m out at the shed and I see the woman outside, I’ll ask if she needs anything and bring her something over from our freezer. She’s so appreciative of the help,” said McAndrew.

The partnership between these two organizations clearly demonstrates their commitment to the Northeast Pennsylvania community. McAndrew looks forward to the day when the COVID-19 pandemic is a thing of the past and more food pantry donation days can take place.

“I love my job. I love doing what I do for the community. I realize how fortunate we are. I’m so grateful to The Weinberg Foundation for helping make all of this happen,” said McAndrew.