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FaithCentre is more than a food bank

In 1967, in Phoenix, Arizona, a retired businessman, John van Hengel, met a desperate mother rummaging through grocery store garbage bins trying to find food for her children. She suggested to him that there should be a place where food could be stored for distribution to the hungry instead of being thrown out.

And, with that, the first food bank was born.

Today, food banks are found in nearly every town and 46 million Americans rely on them in varying degrees to keep hunger at bay. Yet, for many people who haven’t visited or volunteered at a food bank, there remains some mystery surrounding a food bank’s operations. Food banks are not sad places that offer only bags of canned goods and pasta; and their shelves are not filled exclusively with sodium laden tomato soup and macaroni and cheese.

As the need for food assistance has grown over the years, particularly among those working low wage jobs and the elderly, food banks have moved from merely helping to prevent physical hunger to addressing the nutritional and health needs of their clients. Throughout the nation, food banks are evolving into hubs of wellness and nutrition education and transforming into outreach centers.

In keeping with this trend, we at the FaithCentre put great efforts into securing fresh produce, acquiring lean protein sources and purchasing locally produced milk. Simply preventing hunger isn’t enough. We want our clients to have access to all the healthy foods needed to be productive at work or school and to craft nutritious and delicious meals in their homes.

Because of the large number of people we assist each month, the FaithCentre Food Bank also serves as mini-resource center. On any given day, there's information available about low-cost child care, free tax preparation assistance, GED studies, SNAP (food stamp) benefits and the emergency shelter program Out of the Cold.

Food bank volunteers know our regular clients well and take the time to talk to them about their day, share jokes and help them take their groceries to a car or the county van. Since we also understand that companion animals are part of the family, clients with cats or dogs may take home free pet food. Our food bank is not the somber place some might imagine. It is filled with laughter, the bustle of bags being filled and the thump of freezers opening and shutting.

Quality food is an absolute necessity and there is no need for anyone in our community to go hungry. Those who could benefit from food assistance within the greater Bellefonte area are encouraged to visit the FaithCentre Food Bank at 131 S. Allegheny St., Bellefonte, or call 355-4400.

Nicole Summers is the executive director of Faith Centre.