Operation BBQ Relief helped local families receive complete meals in difficult times PHOTO

The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank has been keeping up with the demand for food throughout central Pennsylvania in several creative ways.

A food rescuing program takes perfectly good food with no market and distribute it to families in need. The program has helped during the COVID-19 situation, but it has been tough as grocery stores have overbought to keep shelves filled.

Operation BBQ Relief helped local families receive complete meals in difficult times PHOTO 2

“We are now serving 175,000 people per month, up from 135,000 served in months just prior to the crisis,” said Joe Arthur, executive director of the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank. 

“So many families in our area continue to face an uncertain financial future and we are committed to making sure that everyone has enough nutritious food to stay healthy," he added. "It is through partnerships such as operation BBQ and the many others that we can truly make a difference and stop hunger.”

Operation BBQ Relief helped local families receive complete meals in difficult times PHOTO 3

It has been challenging at times, but the Food Bank has partnered with groups like Crisis Response Box and local farmers to help get food to people who need it.

One of those events was the recent “Operation BBQ Relief” that helped turn donated food into family friendly frozen meals that were distributed to local families. Each box included a healthy protein, vegetables, and another side dish. It was a complete meal for a family of four.

Operation BBQ Relief helped local families receive complete meals in difficult times PHOTO 4

“Operation BBQ was a welcome resource as food demand skyrocketed with the tremendous increase in unemployment from the COVID-19 pandemic and the shelf-stable food chain was heavily disrupted for months,” said Arthur. 

“The program aligned with our mission of providing the most healthy, nutritious food we can to those in need and it also ensured a longer shelf life since the meals were precooked and frozen. We are thankful that Operation BBQ helped us get more food to those in need, provided support to our food service businesses, and ultimately brought more hope during these trying times,” Aurthur said. 

The mass-cooking campaign in Pennsylvania is a partnership with Operation BBQ Relief, a disaster-relief organization created in 2011 to feed tornado victims in Joplin, Mo. The group provides know-how, money and ingredients from its supplier network to restaurants joining the effort to feed people.

According to Feeding Pa Executive Director, Jane Clements-Smith, the program will produce 520,000 meals a week that will be distributed to 9 Feeding Pennsylvania Food Bank’s including the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, who serves 27 counties. It is funded into June by money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state, but a similar operation could extend into the summer.

Keeping up with the increase in demand while navigating the disruptions in the food supply chain has been the greatest challenge. Food Banks rely on shelf stable healthy food to distribute to agency partners.

But with any challenge, there is an opportunity for innovation. The beginning of May, the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank began distributing meals from Operation BBQ Relief (six-week program).  The organization turns donated food that comes in restaurant-size packaging into family-friendly frozen meals for charitable distribution.

Each frozen container has a complete ready-to-eat meal including healthy protein, vegetables, and another side dish for a family of four. The meals go easily from the freezer to the oven to the dinner table, with easy to follow cooking instruction on the package.

Operation BBQ Relief is using a network of barbecue restaurants and food distributors across PA to provide the freshly prepared and pre-packaged meals per week to individuals, seniors and families in need. The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank will distribute the boxes of much-needed food to those in need across their service area. To date 119,888 total meals have been distributed.

A family in Pennsylvania recently sent this note of gratitude. "Your meals were wonderful, and this food has helped us tremendously. We wanted to just send a quick note to thank you all for everything that you do! Bless you all." 

Operation BBQ Relief helped local families receive complete meals in difficult times PHOTO 5

The Wolf Administration has invested in several initiatives to address food insecurity, including $50 million through the USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box program to purchase surplus milk and other dairy products, chicken, pork, and fresh produce from Pennsylvania farmers who lost markets for their products because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and $40 million in funding through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to support Pennsylvania’s dairy industry and food security programs, following months of uncertainty and loss from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Specifically, $15 million will provide an opportunity for dairy farmers to receive direct relief payments and $5 million will go to reimburse farmers donating dairy products through the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System (PASS). This Department of Agriculture program helps food producers donate safe food to food banks and be reimbursed for harvesting, processing, packaging, and transporting costs of donated food.

An additional $15 million will be used for cash grants to counties for the purchase and distribution of food to low income individuals through the State Food Purchase Program and $5 million will go to the PASS program to reimburse the agricultural industry for the costs involved in harvesting, processing, packaging and transporting food that they donate to the charitable food system.