Spotlight On features a Hunger-Free Lancaster County coalition member and how it is helping to ensure sustainable access to three healthy meals a day to all Lancastrians by 2018. Through its efforts, the coalition intends to close the meal gap by ensuring an additional 7.2 million meals a year are funded or provided on a sustainable basis.
Empowering Families, Feeding Children
The need was obvious ten years ago when Joan Espenshade, the founder, started the organization.
“Kids relying on school meals during the week were going hungry on weekends. We needed to get food home to parents so they could prepare meals and get these kids back in school on Monday, ready to learn. It’s that simple – that’s how the Power Packs Project was born,” said Kim McDevitt the program’s current executive director.
McDevitt said, however, that the goal of the program isn’t simply to supply food to tide families over.
“Our mission at Power Packs Project is to empower families to regularly provide healthy meals by giving them money-saving strategies, nutritional and cooking skills along with the food they need to help kids achieve their full potential,” she said. Each Power Pack includes recipes for a meal that costs $6 or under, all the ingredients to make it along with staples such as fresh produce, cereal, peanut butter and fresh milk. In addition, with the help of Lancaster Rotary and Highland Presbyterian, Power Packs provides slow cookers and other appliances to families who need them.
“If you think of the saying ‘give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime,’ you will understand the unique aspect of this program,” said McDevitt, adding that the educational component of Power Packs is vital to the goal of “changed behavior” among the participating families.
Power Packs was one of the first members of the Hunger-Free Lancaster County coalition and McDevitt chairs the Summer Feeding Task Force and sits on two of the group’s three working committees (Schools and Service). In addition, Power Packs hosts the many board and committee meetings of the coalition in their rented space in the Lancaster Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13 building in the Burle Business Park on New Holland Pike.
Power Packs, who celebrates its 10-year anniversary this coming year, relies exclusively on private donations and an army of 450 volunteers, to supply children in 57 schools and sites in 13 Lancaster County school districts. Each Thursday and before school holidays, the kids are sent home with a backpack containing healthy staples, fresh produce, protein and milk, along with recipes for healthy meals. Each week, Power Packs serves 1,500 families which equates to 7,000 people weekly; in 2014, it provided over 600,000 meals.
McDevitt and her team aren’t stopping there. In 2015, her goal is to distribute, at a minimum, an additional 300,000 meals and to grow the summer feeding program. And to do that, Power Packs has expanded both its fundraising and its facilities.
“What amazes people the most is the efficiency of our distribution,” McDevitt said, pointing out that Power Packs can provide weekend nutrition to a child every weekend for an entire school year for only $75.
“We couldn’t do this without committed board members and staff and community help from Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, churches, civic organizations, school districts and the many dedicated generous spirit of our volunteers,” she said.
McDevitt mentioned that Power Packs frequently collaborates with other non-profits. “The results of what we see at Power Packs is what happens when communities pull together,” she said.
Current Power Packs schools include all School District of Lancaster elementary and middle schools, the Brecht, Bucher and Schaeffer Elementary schools and the Landis Run Intermediate and Middle School Schools in the Manheim Township School District, Central Manor Elementary and Hambright Elementary in the Penn Manor School District, and Lititz Elementary and Bonfield Elementary in the Warwick School District in Lititz. Additional sites throughout the county are added in the summer, as well.
The Power Packs Affiliates, which support the cost of the food and volunteers in their own community, include the Columbia Area, Cocalico, Donegal School District, Ephrata Area, Hempfield, Lampeter Strasburg, Elizabethtown HUB and Elanco school districts. Power Packs Project will be expanding beyond Lancaster County to Lebanon County this fall.