David Nelson stocks shelves with donated canned goods at the State College Food Bank on the morning of Nov. 30. Nelson, and his

Centre County United Way helps combat food insecurity in local community

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

David Nelson stocks shelves with donated canned goods at the State College Food Bank on the morning of Nov. 30. Nelson, and his wife Mary, have been volunteering at the Food Bank for 10 years. - IMAGE: PATRICK MANSELL

Centre County United Way helps combat food insecurity in local community

Your support for the Penn State United Way campaign empowers local nonprofits to make a difference when it’s needed most

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The biggest secret about food insecurity in Centre County is a simple one — it exists. "People assume it’s not happening here, that it’s not happening in State College, but it is,” said Allayn Beck, executive director of the State College Food Bank. “We hear from teachers who tell us, ‘I’m paying for food for my students out of my own pocket. What can I do?’ It is real. It’s happening here.” 

Food insecurity impacts a wide range of people, for a wide range of reasons. Beck sees everyone from senior citizens living on fixed incomes to people who work full-time and, through no fault of their own, still have to choose between paying bills or buying food. With the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, Beck and other service providers are continuing to see new people facing food insecurity across Centre County, often for the first time.

Millie, a local community member who asked to be identified by her first name only, is one of these people. She recently stopped by a food distribution at the Bellefonte YMCA, where volunteers loaded her trunk with frozen chicken, milk and fruit. Millie said she lives on a fixed income and must carefully balance buying food with heating her home during the winter and the costs associated with bills from medical procedures.

“It’s rough, especially around the holidays,” she said. “I have nieces and nephews, and great-nieces and great-nephews, and I want to be able to give them all Christmas presents. So, having something like this helps. It really does.”

That’s why the Centre County United Way and its partner agencies — like the State College Food Bank and the YMCA of Centre County — are working tirelessly with the goal of no one going hungry in Centre County. 

Every year, one in three Centre County residents access the services provided through the United Way — services that are supported by the Penn State United Way Campaign. Donations from the Penn State community make up approximately 40% of the total dollars raised for the Centre County United Way each year, representing Penn State’s commitment to community impact as a 21st century land-grant institution. Members of the University community are encouraged to visit UnitedWay.psu.edu to learn more, and to consider supporting the Centre County United Way through a monthly payroll deduction.

“The funding that all these partner agencies receive from the United Way is instrumental to the work we do,” Beck said. “That’s one thing that’s so great about supporting the United Way — giving to just one agency touches so many different lives and makes such a big impact.” — Allayn Beck, State College Food Bank executive director

For the State College Food Bank, Beck said funding from the Centre County United Way allows her organization to serve a wider range of people than would otherwise be possible. Government funding for food insecurity programs typically requires that participants be at 150% of the federal poverty level — but the money raised by the local community for the United Way allows the food bank to go above and beyond, expanding their services to people who might not hit that threshold but still need assistance.

Mel Curtis, director of the Moshannon Valley branch of the YMCA of Centre County, said food insecurity still presents unique and specific challenges to overcome. Often, people feel shame or stigma at the thought of asking for help, especially with food.  In such a large place as Centre County, Curtis said there are many communities “tucked away in nooks and crannies,” and many people who lack transportation to drive somewhere to pick up food and bring it back home.

That’s why Curtis and the YMCA are bringing the food to them, wherever they are. YMCA staff and volunteers perform weekly food distributions in communities across the county, often in partnership with other United Way agencies and local churches. To help combat the stigma around food insecurity, the YMCA performs these distributions using a refurbished fire truck (and sometimes even props like a full-body chicken costume) to help bring out children and families by giving them something to smile about.

Since the start of the pandemic in March, Curtis estimates they’ve provided more than 340,000 meals across Centre County — and they have no plans to slow down.

“We are here to help people,” Curtis said. “That’s why we do this. I can walk out of work every day knowing we’ve made a difference in someone’s life — and the support we get from the United Way helps make that happen.”

Learn more about how you can support the Centre County United Way at UnitedWay.psu.edu. Penn State employees are asked to consider supporting the United Way through a gift, no matter the size, using the University’s online payroll deduction donation form.