Editor’s note: The Daily Item will recognize people who have Made a Difference in the Valley in 2020 this week. This is the second part of a series that will continue until New Year’s Day.
WATSONTOWN — Shannon Smedley saw a need in 2020 that she couldn't ignore: hungry families.
The Watsontown woman started a food bank out of her house in March to provide meals to an estimated 500 families who were struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic and statewide shutdowns of businesses. What started as a small effort exploded into a massive movement that led to partnerships with Watsontown United Methodist Church, the Warrior Run School District's Needy Fund and Watsontown-based Lingle's Neighborhood Market's Bags For a Brighter Holiday food fundraiser.
"I don't do this for the recognition, I didn't do this for The Daily Item to come, I did this because I don't want anybody to go hungry," said Smedley. "We have a wonderful community, we have a lot of little kids here and a lot of folks that needed help. It takes a village to make everything work. If we all pitch in together, we'll all get through this together."
The food bank paused in the summer months since many people returned to work and stopped contacting her, but it restarted a few weeks ago when Gov. Tom Wolf ordered the closure of indoor dining, gyms, theaters and casinos. Smedley re-ignited her partnerships from earlier this year.
"The need here exploded again," she said.
How it started
The original idea started on Facebook where Smedley put out a post in March saying that she would help feed anyone who was struggling. She said her family knew what it was like to struggle when her husband lost his job during the 2008 recession.
Word spread and the post was shared, but Smedley wasn't expecting it to grow so much and so quickly.
"How big could this get?" she said. "Epic. And I don't mean just a little bit."
An interview with WBRE caused another jump. People started dropping food off at her door and handing her money or checks to help fund the drive. She started working with Lingle's, which would order food just for her and she would purchase the items through the donations.
The church was able to order from the Central PA Foodbank, but now the school can do that. The school held drive-thru distributions every Friday until the end of June.
"By the end of June, it was done," she said. "No one asked all summer long. It started back up with the new governor order (in mid-December). My phone was going nuts."
Smedley also recently collected food through the Watsontown Fire Department's Drive-Thru Santa event on Dec. 19. Watsontown Brick Company also donated reusable bags filled with food.
Lingle's Store manager Ian Boyle said 200 food bags were donated to Smedley's efforts. The fourth annual Bags For a Brighter Holiday allows customers to purchase a food bag for $5.99 and donate it to local charities or nonprofits. Last year, customers bought 1,610 bags. They are 300 short of the 2,000 goal that ends on Dec. 31, said Boyle.
The bags contain two cans of vegetables, a can of cranberry sauce, gravy and corn muffin mix. A customer can purchase the bag at the front registers and then one of the charitable organizations will pick it up over the next two months until Christmas Eve, said Boyle.
All food and money collected now go to the Warrior Run School District, where Community School Coordinator Rebecca Perruquet distributes the food.
Smedley was nominated for this year's People Made a Difference in the Valley in 2020 by Mary Ritter, an employee at Kelly Elementary School in the Lewisburg School District.
"Shannon Smedly has worked all through the pandemic to get food for folks in need in the Warrior Run School District, and even now, trying to help families for Christmas," said Ritter in her nomination. "I only see her on Facebook, but she is fiercely working to help others. I know she has made a difference!"
Smedley said she would not have been able to accomplish anything without the help of her husband Roy Smedley, their son Logan Smedley, a 17-year-old junior at Warrior Run High School and Logan's girlfriend Jess Bognetz, a 17-year-old senior at Warrior Run. Shannon Smedley was laid off during the initial shutdown but her husband maintained a job throughout the entire year.
Perruquet, who said the Warrior Run program is in its second year, said Smedley deserves the recognition.
"She works hard to get the community what they need," she said. "It's wonderful."
Brooks Stahlnecker, the president of the Stahlnecker Group in Milton, who donated $250 in Lingle's gift cards last week, agreed with Perruquet.
"She's been busting her butt through the whole thing," he said. "Talk about front-line workers? This is the front-line worker that you don't really see. Families will eat because of her."
Donations toward Smeley's food drive can be made out to the Warrior Run Needy Fund, 4800 Susquehanna Trail, Turbotville, Pa., 17772.