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Pennsylvania pop-up pantry tackles food insecurity in Bradford, Sullivan counties: 'It's just a big help'

On a cold day in Sayre, Pennsylvania outside of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Jim Crown greeted drivers and placed food boxes in truck beds, car trunks and the backseats of vehicles at a drive-through pop-up pantry organized by Child Hunger Outreach Partners (CHOP).

Crown, who is a member of the church, said he has been volunteering with CHOP since it began serving the area. During the past year, the mobile pantry has been at the church monthly.

“The most important thing that I can think of about the work is we're helping others,” said Crown. “And that's what we're supposed to do. We're supposed to be here to help and love our neighbors and do what we can to help them out.”

In 2021, 6,190 people—or 10.3% of the population in Bradford County lived in a food-insecure household, according to the most recent data from Feeding America.

Grocery bills are on the rise. A new report from Consumer Affairs found that grocery stores in Pennsylvania have seen the highest increase in prices in the U.S. with an 8.2% rise over the past 12 months.

CHOP is working to close the hunger gap in the state for residents of all ages. Once the drive-through pantry opened, the line of vehicles moved through food distribution quickly. Crown was one of 12 volunteers at the pop-up pantry keeping the operation running smoothly.

Volunteers unloaded the mobile food truck, packed boxes with a variety of donated food items and handed them out one vehicle at a time. They check the registration of each person and call out the number of boxes for each vehicle. Some people picked up a food box for those who could not attend the event, so that meant at times, two or three boxes per car.

Inside the boxes were fresh meats like chicken and pork chops, fresh dairy like yogurt, frozen fruits like blueberries and cherries. Other items included eggs, cereal, onions, apple sauce, rice, instant mashed potatoes and bread.

“Many people aren't in a position they are because it's something they done,” expressed Crown. “It's just something that happens in life, and we're here to be able to help them out. And we're glad to do it.”

The USDA defines food insecurity as the lack of access to reliable and nutritious meals. It is considered a public health issue.

CHOP registers participants using The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which determines eligibility. A family of three is eligible if its annual income is $45,991 or less per year. For individuals, it is an annual income of $26,973 or less per year.

The line of vehicles picking up a box weaved through the church parking lot and out onto the main roadway and around the corner. People lined up early in the morning. Among those waiting in line was 90-year-old Roselyn Jarvis.

Jarvis lives in Athens, Pennsylvania and has lived there for the past 65 years. She drove herself from Athens to the church.

“Well, I think it's just wonderful for people... it's so helpful,” said Jarvis. “Because with the price of groceries today... I don't know how with families they even manage. I have great grandkids and their parents, even with working... it's just hard. It's just a big help.”

What started as a way to bridge the gap between meals for children in Pennsylvania evolved as CHOP saw a need for food in all age groups.

Today, the organization feeds single households, seniors, and families of all ages with its pop-up food pantry. People come to the church location from Towanda, Athens, Sayre and Waverly. The pop-up pantry currently serves Bradford and Sullivan counties.

“A lot of the people are traveling [at] least a half hour to 40 minutes to come,” said Nicole Heyer, CHOP Towanda branch, mobile distributions coordinator. “So, that's great. You definitely can tell that there's a need for food. So we're glad that we can help.”

Heyer said the church often has a large number of volunteers. But other locations could use more.

Gillett is another community in Bradford County. It is 30 minutes away from Sayre. Heyer said that location had only one to two volunteers.

The pop-up pantry served 177 families at the church event. Forty-four of the families were new registrants. The majority of recipients were adults aged 18-59 years old, according to numbers provided by CHOP.

Once the boxes were handed out to every vehicle in line, volunteers got to work loading all of the leftovers back onto the mobile food truck. Heyer said any leftovers from the event was restocked at the Central PA Food Bank.

For more information about how to get involved with CHOP visit their website.