Good Neighbor Awards: Greater Washington County Food Bank

May 10, 2016

Greater Washington County Food BankIn a big blue building in Centerville, Pennsylvania; Greater Washington County Food Bank Executive Director Connie Burd and Donor Relations Coordinator Heidi Hoffman are moving rapidly from one end of the 22,500 square foot building to the other. As they do so, they point out enormous changes underway: the building that once housed a grocery store is being transformed into a training site that will include two working kitchens, a thrift store that will allow for greater Food Bank sustainability, business offices, and a huge food storage facility where boxes are stacked floor to ceiling and forklifts are needed to move food-laden pallets. 

The Food bank has also purchased a new van, a much needed addition to the fleet as their other three vehicles date back to 1999 (and exhibit the wear and tear you’d expect of 17-year-old vehicles). In fact, one of their trucks is officially off the road after a recent breakdown.

“People don’t really think about how we transport food, but it’s a critical part of our operation and we’re hoping down the road to purchase another truck,” says Connie. She goes on to explain that operational funds are the hardest to come by for the organization. “Food is of course our primary focus – but there has to be a place to put it, there have to be people to manage it, and there has to be a way to deliver it to those in need.” 

Maintaining operations hit a crisis point in 2014, just a few months after Connie came on board. “We were in a bad spot financially, not sure if we could even make payroll – it was very dire. And I’m not just saying this – but Range Resources made a donation at that time that literally saved us.  It helped put us on solid financial footing, and by the grace of God, and some great staff members and volunteers, we’ve been able to turn things around, and here we are.” 

“Here” includes plans for a fruit orchard on the 22 rolling acres behind the big blue warehouse. “We’ll grow approximately fifty fruit trees; peaches, apples, cherry, pears and plums,” says Heidi. 

That fruit will become part of the food supply that the Food Bank provides to those in need. Last year, they distributed food to 5400 families per month. 

“The people that we’re helping, they’re coming from all walks of life,” says Heidi. “When I first started, I thought I had an idea of who the typical Food Bank client would be. But I’ve seen people come in for help who I mistakenly thought were here to volunteer. Very well dressed, very put together – but they’re coming in for help. Because of illness, or job loss, or some other reason they’ve suddenly found themselves in this situation.”  Adds Connie: “Any one of us could be just one day away from the food line.” 

And while the distribution of food to those in need is and will remain the Food Bank’s primary purpose, they hope their new facility will allow them to take that mission even further. “With the training center, we hope to be able to be able to teach clients how to better utilize the food that we provide to them. How to incorporate whole foods and healthier foods into their diets – and also how to budget, and stretch their dollars,” says Connie.

Amid the changes unfolding at the Food Bank right now, Connie says this past year has included budget challenges – and triumphs.  

“There was no way to know we’d be without a state budget for so long. But we had a food plan in place, and a staff member who wrings out every last penny and searches tirelessly to get the best deals and the maximum amount of food she can – and that enabled us to continue to get tons of food out the door.”  

By late October 2015 though, without any funding from the state, the Food Bank was facing their busiest season with a critical shortage of food and funds. “And – absolutely, incredibly, beyond anything we could have planned – we had a huge, unexpected donation as a result of the Range Resources 2000 Turkeys Food Drive in November. That allowed us to put out 665,000 pounds of food and 82,000 dollars’ worth of gift cards in November and December.” 

As she reflects on those who have offered help to the Food Bank and its clients, Connie is thankful. 

“We’ve been blessed beyond our wildest imagination with incredible staff, volunteers, and support from the community. Those of us who work at it every day look at the turnaround from where we were just a couple of years ago, and we shake our heads in amazement. And we are so excited about the future, and what we hope to accomplish next.” 

Range Resources is privileged to partner with our Good Neighbor, the Greater Washington County Food Bank.  

To read more about the Good Neighbor Awards here, visit Range's Community Engagement section of the website. 

Read about the other Good Neighbor Award Recipients here: