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When hunger is real, even one pound of staple food can make a real difference.

By that scale, the community food drive that was part of last month’s local Make A Difference Day made 1,257 real differences.

The Oct. 16 Make A Difference Day food drive at Allegheny College raised 1,257 pounds of food to benefit Center for Family Services Inc., which helps thousands of Crawford County residents through its management of food pantries in Meadville, Saegertown, Cambridge Springs, Conneaut Lake, Jamestown, Springboro and Titusville.

An increased demand for aid, coupled with not receiving state funding since July, made that food drive all the more important this year, according to agency officials.

“The need is so much greater than it was a year ago, and (looking back at) two and three years ago, there’s just no comparison,” said CFS Executive Director Linda Bennett. “Just the fact that we’ve seen such an increase,” she added, “shows our county has been hit hard” by the effects of the economic recession.

Recent figures put that statement into stark perspective: CFS officials have said the agency’s seven food pantries served more than 3,500 adults and children in August 2010, more than double the number of people the pantries worked with in August 2009. “We give out an average of 1,300 boxes (of food) a month,” said Bennett.

Just two years ago, that monthly average was around 860 boxes, she added.

The Make A Difference Day food drive also raised more than $300 in monetary donations to benefit the seven food pantries, said Bennett. About 17 cents can purchase one pound of food, according to CFS.

Center for Family Services gets about $35,000 each quarter from the state food purchase program, but the agency hasn’t received funding from that program since July 1. Officials have been informed this quarter’s funding may not be released until around the end of the year, and even with that “I don’t really have any guarantee,” said Bennett.

“We depend on the community, then, to help support our food bank,” said Bennett, “and they have really stepped up to the plate.”

You can help — and be helped

An increased demand for aid, coupled with a lack of state funding since July, have made community-driven donations of food and funds all the more important to Center for Family Services Inc., which helps thousands of Crawford County residents through its management of food pantries in Meadville, Saegertown, Cambridge Springs, Conneaut Lake, Jamestown, Springboro and Titusville.

Center for Family Services’ food pantries accept non-perishable food items (especially staples such as peanut butter, jelly, cereal, boxed potatoes, tuna fish, soup, pasta, pasta sauce and juice); and tax-deductible donations may be made by sending a check to: Center for Family Services Inc., 213 Center St., Meadville, Pa., 16335.

For more information about the Center for Family Services food pantries — including addresses, hours and eligibility information — visit thecenter-nwpa.org or call 337-8450.

MADD 2011

Mark your calendars now — the next Crawford County Make a Difference Day is set for Oct. 22, 2011.

Organizers of the annual day of community service have already determined that a major push for additional community volunteers is needed and they urge community groups and businesses to begin work now to organize a team to participate next year. Some teams even identify and fund projects, but doing so is not required. Individual volunteers are also welcome.  

Annually, nearly 150 projects across Crawford County are done on Make A Difference Day by as many as 1,000 volunteers —  ranging from the complex, such as building handicapped-accessibility ramps, to the straightforward, such as cleaning and leaf-raking. All projects are vetted by organizers to determine that the recipient of the help cannot otherwise pay to have the work done.

For more information on Make A Difference Day, contact the Meadville-Western Crawford County Chamber of Commerce at 337-1251.

Ryan Smith can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at rsmith@meadvilletribune.com.

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