When people think of Northeastern Pennsylvania its picturesque rolling hills and quaint towns and villages they imagine, not images of families struggling to provide their families with food and shelter. Yet, the reality is poverty is not just an urban problem. In NEPA one in five children are not getting enough to eat, and many of the adults caring for these children are struggling.
Being stuck in a cycle of poverty can feel overwhelming and hopeless, but one organization that is working to change all that is the Commission on Economic Opportunity. One way that the Commission plans to reduce poverty in the region is by ending hunger and food insecurity here by 2025.
It’s an ambitious goal, to be sure, but one the Commission has made its mission. With programs that seek to improve the lives those in need through education and help with basic services such as heat and housing, the Commission also runs the Weinberg Northeast Regional Food Bank, a massive food distribution center serving Lackawanna, Luzerne, Susquehanna and Wyoming counties.
Director of Resource Development for the Commission, Gretchen Hunt Greaves, details that while a five-year plan to end hunger is lofty goal, she believes it’s achievable with partners like Cabot.
“The motto of CEO is ‘People helping people,” Greaves explains. “And that means we can’t do it alone. What we really are is a conduit for the ‘community supporting the community’ and that’s what Cabot is helping to make possible.”
According to Greaves, Cabot caught the vision early and quickly went into action. She shares, “When we started working with Cabot many years ago the programs that they supported focused on bringing fresh produce and fresh milk to our rural communities and to children in rural schools. Now they really understand what it means to have all of Northeastern Pennsylvania become hunger-free, and their generosity has grown along with their vision.”
Becoming a hunger-free region will lead to other massive shifts as well. As Greaves explained, the shift may start at home, but those changes will ripple out and begin to affect the community as a whole.
“The effort that a household leader – a mom or a dad of limited means – has to put into getting and accessing food is so massive. Sometimes they have to go to one food pantry for milk and another one across town for fresh vegetables. It’s very time-consuming and stressful. If you remove that burden people can focus on bettering themselves and their family and making their household sustainable and self-sufficient,” Greaves explains.
Standing in the cavernous space at the Weinberg Food Bank, Greaves gestures at the pallets of food.
“We have a huge warehouse but we have a small staff,” she says. “That means we need partners and donors and volunteers from across our community. And to have someone like Cabot who stands next to us and who wants to support this because they also want to see this change happen, well, that has just been wonderful.”