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With most every holiday celebration comes a delicious holiday meal. However, there are many students across York County who have to go without a special dinner during the Christmas season, simply because their families can’t afford one.

The York County Food Bank, which provides more than 2 million pounds of food and household items annually, has partnered with local businesses and school districts to make sure that no one has to go without a turkey dinner — and all the fixings — this holiday season through the assistance of their new “Give a Meal” program.

The food bank, with the help of donations from local businesses, has committed to provide 3,500 turkeys to families in need within the York County public schools, and at the month’s start, students began bringing in canned goods that will later on be paired with the turkeys to create a full-fledged holiday dinner for their classmates who would otherwise go without.

New: “This is a new initiative for us, the food bank has been around for a long time, but we’re growing,” said Matt Shorb, president of York County Food Bank Board of Directors. “We have new initiatives, new programs, new leadership, and we’re on the threshold of renovating a building that will double our capabilities to serve our community.”

The idea for the new “Give a Meal” program started to develop through conversations with teachers from several school districts, Shorb said.

“It became apparent to us that throughout the county, every school has families that need this type of assistance,” he said. “In working with food bank board, we realized that we could really help here and we presented the idea to Dr. Merkle — her eyes just lit up.”

York Suburban Superintendent Shelly Merkle has taken on the role of a liaison between the school districts and superintendents.

“It really is a fantastic opportunity for students to see the benefits of their efforts be attributed locally, and to help students and families they encounter every single day,” Merkle said.

“School districts have always hosted food drives; the difference here is that they will be helping students they play sports with, that they’re in class with, that they’re in band with.”

Business

: The real push to action came from a generous donation from Scott Wagner’s Penn Waste and KBS Dump Truck Service, Shorb said.

“When he came on board that was enough of an impetus to get us going officially,” he said.

Wagner said as soon as the food bank’s board made their presentation, he knew he  wanted to be involved almost instantly.

“This project is not only huge, but it also benefits families in our community that are in need,” he said in a press release. “When I was first presented with this project, it took me less than thirty seconds to say yes. On behalf of Penn Waste, KBS Dump Truck Service and our employees we applaud everyone at the York County Food Bank.”
Shorb said Giant Food Stores has also offered a substantial donation.

In school: “Each district that wants to participate with us — which is nearly all of them — have said that they will identify families within their district that participate in the free and assisted lunch programs to find those students we can help,” Shorb said.

Of the 67,919 students enrolled in schools across the county for the 2014-15 school year, nearly 42 percent, or 28,180, qualified for either free or reduced price lunches — 24,948 and 3,232 respectively, according to data collected by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Those numbers represent an increase over the previous school year.

Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level — for a family of four that would be an annual income of about $30,000 — qualify for free lunches.

Those between 130 percent and 185 percent are eligible for the reduced price meals.

Merkle said these programs are only one of the ways districts will be identifying their students in need.

“We’re just going to be looking at any family that has any type of need that we’re aware of,” she said.

Volunteer: To support the food banks “Give a Meal” program send students to school with canned goods or bring in a donation to the York County Food Bank at 254 West Princess Street.

The food bank is also looking for volunteers to help sort and package food items after the donation period ends on December 14. For more information visit their website.
— Reach Jessica Schladebeck at jschladebeck@yorkdispatch.com.

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