ST MARYS — Every week, several volunteers gather at Christian Food Bank on South Michael Road to pack more than 100 boxes of food for local families and individuals in need.
CFB is a charitable, nonprofit corporation serving the St. Marys Area School District. It has more than 150 dedicated volunteers and 16 board members.
In 2017-2018, CFB served 323 households and distributed 6,354 boxes of food, according to statistics.
Volunteers pack the boxes on Wednesday and Thursday mornings, distributing them Thursday afternoons. By the time the doors open, a line of people has already been there for hours.
CFB has received an enormous amount of help from the Elk County community, said Director Georgia Wagner, including regular food donations from Walmart, Save-A-Lot and Sheetz.
Wagner, a former St. Marys Area School District educator, has been with the food bank for almost four decades. It was founded by Billie Diehl in 1983, when St. Marys was experiencing a downturn. She gathered 12 women, distributing eight brown paper bags of food to people in need.
The food bank has received many of its essential items through grants and donations, Wagner said, such as the freezer and trailer used to pick up food from Walmart, which was obtained through Seneca Resources. The shed for items like potatoes and produce from the “Women Who Care” project through the Elk County Community Foundation.
Around two years ago, CFB couldn’t provide things like fresh fruit and yogurt, Wagner said. Thanks to Walmart State Foundation Giving Program grants, volunteers are now able to store fresh, healthy food in the cooler. Farmers and gardeners also donate local produce in the summertime.
Former director Larry Johnson has been with the food bank for 13 years. Some of CFB’s volunteers are actually recipients, he said, and choose to help as their way of saying “thank you.” Special needs individuals also enjoy volunteering there.
CFB is considered a distributor of Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest Pennsylvania in Erie, Wagner said. In 2017-2018, it received 72,376 pounds of food from SHFB, according to statistics.
CFB serves about 130 families each week, Wagner said. Boxes go by individual, two-and-three, four-and-five or six-and-seven-person households. People can also choose from left-over Walmart items before they leave.
The food bank sees turnover, too, Wagner said. People will need help during a particular hard time in their lives, such as having a chronic health issue, losing their job or experiencing a house fire.
“People come when they’re down, until they get back on their feet,” she said.
CFB used to depend on state and federal funding, but now, 80 percent of funds are locally-acquired, Wagner said.
“The support we get is unbelievable,” she adds. “This is a very giving town.”
Local school, churches, organizations, social clubs and businesses contribute, Wagner said. Sometimes, people will just walk in and hand them money. Scout troops will tour the facility and bring donations, and an annual postal drive collected more than 4,000 pounds of food in May of this year.
Each year, CFB re-interviews its clients, ensuring they still meet the federal income guideline requirements, Wagner said.
Wagner considers herself to be lucky to do what she is doing now, and to see the generosity of the community in full force.
“I personally have been very blessed,” she said. “This is my way of giving back.”