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Taking a more innovative approach to the food banking model

For over 35 years Greater Washington County Food Bank, a non-profit organization, has been providing groceries and nutritional information/education to food insecure residents of Washington County. It is estimated that Washington County currently has over 25,000 people who are food insecure.  While we don't distribute food from our home office; we do distribute food through our network of 38 distribution sites (9 public and 29 senior living/CSFP locations) and 7 agencies located throughout the county. We also support several after school food programs that help ensure food insecure students have something to eat over the weekend. Currently over 30% of our recipients are children under the age of 18, and over 20% are seniors. We rely primarily on community support to meet these objectives in a caring and compassionate way.

In 2016, Greater Washington County Food Bank moved to a larger facility located in Brownsville. The former Country Thrift Market on National Pike, the facility came with 22 acres of land as well as retail space. It was during this transition that the long-term vision of what the services the organization could provide to those that we serve.

First, a training center opened in an effort to offer educational opportunities and culinary classes to help clients learn how to make healthy meals and other life skills to improve their lives. Healthy Habits Training Center has hosted numerous classes from cooking classes, hydroponic classes, gardening classes, and financial education opportunities.

Next, a retail space was put to use as a thrift market to use to sell gently used items ranging from clothes, children's toys, kitchen accessories, books and movies, as well as many more items available for purchase. Country Thrift Market is open to the public, and net proceeds are supporting the activities that occur at Food Helpers.

Most recently, the farm land has been put to use with multiple areas of focus. The FARM is home to a full orchard, fully-operational hydroponic containers, raised beds, a greenhouse, as well as farmland for planting crops.

The development of these complementary programs allowed our organization to not only feed the hungry, but address the socioeconomic factors that leads someone towards food insecurity. By providing education and resources, by providing low-cost retail experiences, and by providing instruction on growing one's own food, we can weaken the chain of events that leads to food insecurity.

After years of constant recognition for our innovative approaches to the food banking model, we decided in January of 2020 that we would rebrand our non-profit as a group that not only feeds the hungry, but helps the hungry and at-risk.

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Food Helpers connects those in need with those who can help. It's altruistic name brings our community in Washington County and Southwestern Pennsylvania together as someone who can help. By designating Greater Washington County Food Bank, Healthy Habits Training Center, Country Thrift Market, and The FARM as four unique programs under Food Helper's umbrella, we can provide a well-rounded experience of escaping the food insecurity cycle. Greater Washington County Food Bank will focus on distribution of the freshest, locally grown produce, providing nutritious meals instead of just calories in bulk. Healthy Habits Training Center will get involved with educational resources, providing classes and opportunities to make meaningful changes to overcome personal struggles leading to food insecurity. Country Thrift Market will continue to offer a discounted retail experience compared to available options i the area. The FARM will provide hands-on opportunities for learning to grow one's own food and becoming self-sustaining in the food supply chain. Together, we can all be Food Helpers. Will you join our mission in this new adverture of weakening the chain of events that leads to food insecurity?