MIFFLINTOWN - Who doesn't love summer? Long sunny days, swimming, catching fireflies - and empty tummies.
Almost 1,000 Juniata County children from kindergarten through eighth grade qualify for free or reduced-price lunches during the school year. Many of these children go without lunch over the summer simply because increased grocery bills strain already struggling families. More on that in a moment.
The Juniata County Food Pantry serves approximately 1,000 clients each month throughout the year. We provide a week's worth of groceries, once per month, to eligible clients. The pantry is set up much like a grocery store, where clients can choose the groceries they need according to family size. Clients in need of our services are referred to us from a variety of community resources, including churches and assistance agencies.
An organization like ours is staffed by a dedicated team of volunteers, overseen by a board of directors. We are always on the lookout for new volunteers, whether you can spare just a couple of hours here and there or are looking for a steady volunteer opportunity. Our biggest "volunteer," though, is the community itself. Churches, businesses and individuals work together to make our mission a success.
There are a variety of ways individuals can help serve their community through the food pantry. One way is to donate nonperishable food, personal care items, toilet paper, diapers, household cleaners, etc. Donations can be dropped off anytime in our vestibule. If you leave a note, we will send you a receipt for your donation, which may be tax deductible. Another way to help is to donate gift cards from local grocery and discount stores.
The most effective way is to donate money. At the pantry, we can purchase many of our supplies through Feed America organizations like the Central PA Food Bank and other ministries, turning every dollar you donate into four dollars worth of food and supplies for those in need.
Another fantastic way to donate is to bring us your excess garden produce. Our clients are rarely able to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, and we all know how much more nutritious and delicious garden-fresh foods are. We accept any kind of home-grown fresh produce. Due to regulations, we are unable to accept homemade or home-canned goods. This will be our first harvest season with our new walk-in cooler and freezer units, and we can't even tell you how excited we are to be able to store fresh produce.
Most rewarding for us, though, is watching the kids' excitement at picking out fresh foods. Students who come in for our Summer Backpack Program not only choose from lunch items, they are able to "shop" the fresh produce section as well. Trust us, there is nothing in the world like a young child squealing in delight over fresh tomatoes or corn.
The Summer Backpack Program is one weapon in the battle against hunger in Juniata County. We provide a backpack, which students can bring in once per week all summer long and fill with nutritious foods for a whole week's worth of lunches and snacks.
Any child living in Juniata County in kindergarten through eighth grade who receives free or reduced-price lunch or has an ACCESS card is eligible to register for the backpack program. Last summer, we served 165 students. This year we anticipate serving approximately 350.
If you would like to donate items for this program, some ideas that were big hits last year were pudding cups, juice boxes, fruit, breakfast variety packs (kids love breakfast for snacks), and single-serving packages of main dishes. Of course, cash is also a wonderful donation. We can provide a complete lunch for approximately $1.30.
Please specify if your donation is for the Backpack Program so we keep it separate from regular donations. We also had a generous donation of Frisbee discs last year, which the kids loved. Anything similar that is kid-friendly would be gladly accepted.
In addition to donations for the Backpack Program, we are in need of volunteers to help register the students and assist them in making their weekly selections.
If you or someone you know is hungry, don't hesitate to contact us. In order to become a client, you must be a Juniata County resident and meet certain income guidelines. We will not turn away people in an emergency situation and we can help you connect to additional organizations that may be able to help, too.
For more information on the Juniata County Food Pantry, how to help or what to do if you need help, call us at 436-9718, visit us at jcfoodpantry.com or like us on Facebook.