AUSTIN — The Austin Food Pantry, which began under the direction of Frances Bennett, has been providing meals to the community for nearly 30 years. In the early days, volunteers drove to the Potter County Human Services Office in Roulette each month to pick up the food items and return to the Austin United Methodist Church where the food was sorted, boxed and distributed to families who met the income guidelines.
Current volunteer Al Stahl remembers working with former Mayor Neil Shepard when five-pound buckets of cheese and butter were distributed. In 2001, Gloria Stuckey took over the food pantry and ran it for 18 years before turning over the duties to Dawn Bacon in January.
There are some misconceptions regarding guidelines and operation of the program, Bacon said. There are no longer any income guidelines to participate in the Austin Food Pantry which is not affiliated with the Austin United Methodist Church or the Austin Volunteer Fire Company. The only stipulation is families must reside in the Austin Area School District. The food pantry is run by more than 20 volunteer members of the community.
The Austin Food Pantry is held the third Tuesday of each month and has recently moved from the basement of the Austin UM Church to the Austin Fire Hall to offer easier access. The fire hall is also handicap accessible.
Bacon also noted there have been some questions regarding the difference between a food pantry and food bank. A food bank solicits, collects, stores, repackages and distributes large quantities of food to direct food service programs. The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank is a food bank and a member of Feeding America, the national network of food banks.
A food pantry provides food directly to the community. Food pantries are also an important source of emergency food for those in need and they often provide other critical resources. Any additional foods are kept in storage and available to assist local community members during hard times, Bacon said. The food pantry may also provide food items for non-profit community meals.
The PA Department of Agriculture provides food items to the Central Food Bank in Williamsport, which in turn distributes to the food pantries, Bacon said. The Austin Food Pantry is funded through the Williamsport Office and Potter County Human Services. Human Services receives a lump sum from the Central Food Bank and those monies are shared among the six food pantries in Potter County. Each food pantry then divides its funds by 12 so organizers know how much operating funds they have for the upcoming months.
Food is sourced from manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, distributors, grocers, growers, processors, the food industry and Feeding America, as well as from food drives and donations. The Austin Food Pantry recently received donations from the Austin Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts and Austin VFW Post 7810.
Volunteers at the food pantry also held various fundraisers including candy bar sales and bake sales to supplement funds, which will allow Bacon to purchase additional food items in the future through the Central PA Food Bank at 19 cents per pound once the Food Pantry receives its 501C(3) certification. The Potter County Democratic Party recently donated 20 turkeys which were distributed to needy families with children and senior citizens for Thanksgiving.
The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank is a nonprofit organization committed to reducing hunger in 27 counties across central Pennsylvania. The Central PA Food Bank mission is fighting hunger, improving lives and strengthening communities. The Food Bank supports more than 1,000 partner agencies and programs including food pantries like Austin, food kitchens and emergency food providers
The Austin Food Pantry helps supplement food sources and provides nutritious food for all members of the community including children, veterans, military personnel, seniors and more.
In January, there were 42 families participating in the program and there are now 80 families. Bacon encourages local families to sign up for the program and again reiterated there are no income guidelines to participate in the Austin Food Pantry. For more information, contact Dawn Bacon at 814-647-8562.