Thanksgiving is the traditional start to the holiday season, and Valley food banks are already stocking up on products for an expected busy season.

The Montour Food Bank, the Sunbury Food Bank and other programs in the member network of the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank have seen an increase of families and inviduals in need of help putting food on the table.

Greg Molter, executive director, human services, Montour County, runs the county’s food bank out of the municipal building. Although the number fluctuates a bit, Molter said they are serving 120 families now.

“We have a good following, and we have been seeing an increase since June,” Molter said. “But that could be because more people have become aware of us and what we can offer.”

For this Thanksgiving, Molter said, “we didn’t have any turkeys available to us, but we did have a lot of the staples, such as stuffing, vegetables, and potatoes. Things we had a lot of. We have been handing out chicken, hams, ham slices.”

Molter gets a weekly inventory list to order food from the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank.

“We have a certain amount of money that we get quarterly from the state,” he said. “We review what is available to us and match that against an inventory of what is available, which right now is not a whole lot, and then we place our order. Most of the high cost items are meats. Meat prices have gone through the roof.”

Molter bases his purchases on the needs of those 120 families, he said.

The Montour food bank is also undergoing renovations and improvements to its space. Kitchen equipment that was formerly in the area took up a lot of floor space, and by removing it, this will allow for Molter to bulk up and bring in portable steel shelving units. They will also bring in a couple of chest freezers to stock more of the perishables. A refrigerator unit would allow for the bank to store milks and cheeses.

“We’re looking at a lot of improvements to make our operation better to serve our people,” he said.

Sunbury YMCA Co-Executive Director Katrina Mouery runs the food bank that operates out of her facility. The Sunbury Food Bank also is a member of the Central Pa. Food Bank.

Mouery said she has noticed an increased number of people coming to the food bank. Mouery does her food bank buying on a schedule because the Y gives out food on the first and third Wednesdays of the month, she said.

“We order every other week,” Mouery said. “It’s always a matter of ‘how much do we order?’ We know that after what we did during our Thanksgiving hand-out, we are going to have to up our game for the next two giveaways in December.

“We do find that whatever food supplies we get, people are extremely thankful for.”

Food supplierBased on their previous experience over the last two-and-a-half years, “on the sourcing side, we’ve been preparing for this season all of 2022,” said Joe Arthur, executive director of the Central Food Bank.

“We’re just trying to get the products we need, that are popular. That people expect to see in their holiday boxes, holiday meals,” Arthur said.

It’s a much larger supply chain issue on that side of things, he said.

And then, on the sharing side, the bank is gearing up “early and often with our partner agencies to make sure everybody is ready for their big holiday distribution. They count on us so much.”

The team at the Central Food Bank has been busy all of 2022, while also anticipating about a 20 percent increase in the number of people coming for help over the last five months, Arthur said.

This past year has been “a super busy year, both operationally and just in general,” he said.

Partner members for the holiday season leading up to Christmas require the bank to increase their inventory of hams, whole chickens and different types of poultry, pork, hamburgers, sausages, and even some turkey products. Some families like smaller portions. “Not everybody can pop a 20-pound turkey into an oven,” Arthur said. “So we do offer other protein products.”

In short, things that families can use to put together economical meals.

Ordering systemOverall, on an ongoing basis, partner agencies can see online the central food bank’s inventory, every day, updated minute-to-minute. A member can look through that inventory list and build an order in the Bank’s computerized system.

Since the inventory is continually updated, any order that is placed, “we’ll dedicate that inventory to them, even if later someone orders that same product,” Arthur said.

Every day is a receiving day and every day is a distribution day from traditional business suppliers.

“But that is not enough for us to fulfill our mission. There is not enought donated food to do that in any year, but in particular the pandemic years and in 2022. So we are purchasing a lot more food,” Arthur said. “Our sourcing team is buying truckloads of food every day and constantly working with food donors who are also vendors to us. We work with them on deep discount pricing.”

The Central Pennsylvania Food bank also has sourcing channels, such as its national affiliate, Feeding America, as well as produce cooperatives the food bank helped to build, called the Mid-Atlantic Regional Cooperative, that supplies a lot of produce.

The central bank is also sourcing directly to farms during their harvest season.

“We are working very hard every day to make sure that inventory includes a broad spectrum of products needed by our partner agencies. We can never do it a hundred percent,” Arthur said. “We are not a grocery store. So our partner agencies will tell us what they can’t get. Still we’ll try to obtain those specialty products.”

Distribution is accomplished via a fleet of 28 refrigerated trucks, inclusive of tractor-trailers. The Bank also leases additional trailers — like pick up and drop triailers as needed. The refrigerated trucks can all handle fresh products, Arthur said.

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