The Tioga County Friends of the Food Pantry hosted a massive produce giveaway at the Tioga County Fairgrounds Wednesday, Sept. 2. Hundreds of cars lined up to receive boxes containing fresh, seasonal produce as well as potatoes, bananas, apples and salad mix.

The distribution effort was headed by Chris Gilbert, head of Tioga Friends of the Food Pantry, and Chris Williammee, a volunteer.

“What food pantries order and what they get can be two different things,” said Gilbert. “We exist to fill in the gaps and fill the need, with good quality food and enough of it.”

Dozens of cars waited at the fairgrounds when distribution began at 3 p.m., and the line of cars grew as the hours went on. Vehicles snaked far down Charleston Road to Benedict’s Bus Service as families patiently inched forward. Approximately 10 volunteers, most associated with the Mansfield Food Pantry and local churches, assembled boxes of produce in the exhibit barn adjacent to the riding ring.

Once finished, the boxes were transported up the hill by tractor, where Gilbert and Williammee loaded the food into car trunks and pick-up truck beds.

“We’ll try to assess how many boxes each family needs and distribute accordingly,” said Gilbert. No income verification or paperwork of any kind was required to receive the produce.

Tioga County Friends of the Food Pantry works in collaboration with the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank’s Williamsport headquarters. Their purpose, Williammee said, is to “distribute and supplement. We also do pop-up food pantries and we’ve helped with the school food pantry programs as well.” Tioga County Friends of the Food Pantry also offers occasional assistance in Bradford and Potter counties.

Gilbert said that the recent U.S. Department of Agriculture “Farmers to Families Food Box Program” makes it possible for local farmers to provide the Friends of the Food Pantry with quality local produce. This new program provides approximately $100 million per month to procure produce throughout the commonwealth; the Department of Agriculture subsidizes local farmers to provide produce to food pantries. There are equivalent statewide subsidies for meat and dairy.

Gilbert said that there was already a need for fresh produce at food pantries, but with the pandemic and unemployment, demand has gone up.

“We have a group of about 10 core people who drive almost every day to farms to pick up food,” said Williammee. “We don’t have a permanent staff, but we have lots of folks with big hearts.”

For more information on Tioga County Friends of the Food Pantries, visit the Facebook page.