Midwest Food Bank opens first Pennsylvania warehouse in Dauphin County

Midwest Food Bank is set to open its new Dauphin County-based warehouse in November. PHOTO/PROVIDED

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.

Hamilton Health Center announces $14 million expansion

Jeannine Peterson, CEO of Hamilton Health Center, announces the center’s newest string of expansions at its 50th anniversary Golden Gala on Thursday. PHOTO/IOANNIS PASHAKIS

Hamilton Health Center plans to begin raising funds for a three-part, $14 million project at its 17th St. headquarters that would provide greater services in and around the city’s South Allison Hill neighborhood.

The three projects, announced by CEO Jeannine Peterson Thursday night at the center’s 50th Anniversary Golden Gala at Hershey Lodge, which can be developed independently from one another, include the a women and children’s department, a fresh food distribution center and a workforce development program.

The women and children’s department would combine the center’s women, infant and children services as well as its case management programs to help families better navigate the system’s supportive services, said Peterson.

Hamilton, which receives funds through the federal Department of Health and Human Services, also plans to address its community’s food insecurity through a fresh food distribution center that would expand upon the first floor of the 110 S 17th St. Hamilton Health Center.

A rendering by Hamilton Health Center shows one of the center’s new proposed expansion projects- a workforce development space that would help prepare people for the health care industry. PHOTO/PROVIDED

As a part of the fresh food initiative, Hamilton also plans to install an industrial teaching kitchen that would give patients and clients a place to learn how to cook healthy meals for their families.

The third expansion to the headquarters involves a new workforce development program. Peterson said Hamilton’s growth in recent years has created a severe need for a more reliable workforce pipeline that the center will be looking at filling with a new classroom experience in its main facility.

“The program will target low income individuals to help them build careers in the health care field,” she said. “Developing our own workforce pipeline will not only help us fill our vacancies but give our target population opportunities for financial security.”

As a part of the initiative, Hamilton is also exploring a certified nurse practitioner program and a partnership with Penn State Health that would provide clinical rotations for family practice, pediatric or internal medicine residents.

Hamilton has already invested $1 million into the new project and plans to announce a capital campaign in the coming months.

The project outlined by Peterson, shows the direction the center will be going in the coming years.

“Researchers found that primary care providers must address a patients social and economic conditions to help and approve the health outcomes of the population,” said Peterson. “In our community, the issues of poverty, low literacy and food insecurity are significantly impacting our resident’s health conditions and behaviors.”

Hamilton operates six facilities and is primarily focused in the capital region where it offers dental care, podiatry, mental health services, family planning and more. Hamilton provides outpatient services to the city’s underserved population, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay.