An international food bank is set to launch its first Pennsylvania location next month. It’s a move the nonprofit says will help it provide free food to any Pennsylvania nonprofits willing to make the drive to Middletown.
Bloomington, Illinois-based Midwest Food Bank, a private, nonprofit charity organization with 11 locations, including Arizona, Florida, East Africa and Haiti, is finishing work on a warehouse in Lower Swatara Township, Dauphin County. When complete, the warehouse will allow Midwest’s staff and volunteers to provide food for organizations from the smallest church food kitchen to the largest feeding agency, said Lori Renne, executive director for Midwest Food Bank, Pennsylvania.
“We want to reach where we are needed,” said Renne. “When agencies come to us, our coordinator will ok them regardless of where they are as long as they can drive to us and pick up the food.”
Midwest Food Bank was founded in 2003 by a Bloomington, Illinois farmer. The Christian non-profit prides itself on its large numbers of volunteers with over 800 volunteers for every one paid staff member.
Last year, the food bank had more than 32,018 volunteers log some 300,000 hours of service to feed 4 million people, according to Renne.
On its opening day, Midwest Food Bank Pennsylvania will have three trucks from its Illinois headquarters deliver foods from across the country to the warehouse.
Midwest’s new 2700 Commerce Drive 28,800-square-foot warehouse will have 3,200 square feet of office space. The non-profit looks to expand the warehouse’s space to 60,000 square feet in the next five years.
Before Midwest begins its operations in mid-November, Renne said the warehouse still needs coolers, chillers and racks installed.
The Pennsylvania branch has already begun bringing on volunteers to work alongside its three full-time employees and recently held its first volunteer weekend.
Renne, one of the three full-time employees in Pennsylvania, said that she will be working with a 1% operating budget upon the Pennsylvania branch’s opening.
“The operating budget is thanks to our volunteers. It lies in the strength of the fact that we have people that just want to volunteer,” she said. “We run a very lean ship because it’s not about us, it’s about getting the food to where it’s needed. That operating budget, as lean as it is, allows us to focus on the food.”
Midwest chose to open its next location in Pennsylvania partly due to its location, which Renne noted is close in geography to city centers like New York, Philly and Baltimore as well as a number of states that could need future disaster relief, which the nonprofit also offers.
“With 2020 we don’t know what is in store next but we are in a position to get food across Pennsylvania and outside of it within 24 hours,” Renne said.
Midwest will be working in the same region as the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, which distributes food throughout a 27 county service area, including parts of Maryland.
Amy Hill, director of community engagement and advocacy at the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, said that the noprofit is not yet familiar enough with Midwest to know how the local operation might impact their work.
“What we do know is that our excellence in serving our region relies upon the relationships we have built with over 300 food business donor including grocers, farmers, food producers, and distributors; the unique partnerships we have nurtured with almost 1,000 Partner Agencies, and the support of thousands of loyal monetary donors and amazing volunteers,” said Hill. “We also know that the remaining gaps in food security in central Pennsylvania, most notably those in our more remote rural areas and disparately-impacted communities, require sustained community investment and collaboration.”
Harrisburg-based nonprofit, Ecumenical Food Pantry, is a partner of the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and intends to also use the Midwest Food Bank when needed.
The food pantry, located within Messiah Lutheran Church in mid-town Harrisburg, provides a three-day supply of emergency food assistance to over 850 people every month.
A significant portion of the nonprofit’s yearly budget is tied to grant monies associated with purchasing food through the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, said Lynn Bertram, chairperson for the Ecumenical Food Pantry.
Bertram added that the addition of the Midwest Food Bank will allow the pantry to have more sources of food at any given time and will help it feed its clients even when funds are low.
“Food sourced from Midwest Food Bank is free to food pantries, and in a time where it is challenging for organizations to fundraise due to COVID-19, we may need to rely upon Midwest Food Bank more than anticipated,” said Bertram.
Renne said that Midwest is in Pennsylvania to work alongside other agencies to get food to where it’s needed most.
“Wherever we can fit in and supplement that food supply, we are happy to do that,” she said.