It was seven years ago when Hurricane Sandy ravaged the east coast, bringing destruction to 24 states, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Bucks County was one of the areas affected, with multiple towns forced to live without power for several days.
Tim Philpot, United Way of Bucks County’s impact director for health, and several of his colleagues wanted to help.
“We knew that some of the food pantries had lost a lot of supplies,” Philpot said, explaining how pounds of much-needed nutrition were spoiled without working refrigerators. “We wanted to see what we could possibly do to help them.”
United Way obtained a small grant from the Land O’Lakes Foundation, but it was only enough to give each pantry $100. The team decided to take their efforts a step further, rallying the community to collect food and pack meals. These were distributed to local pantries, which enjoyed stocked shelves for the next several months.
“It worked out really well. The volunteer enthusiasm for the event and the generosity of people willing to give and make it happen, it was very successful,” Philpot said.
Every year since, this collective effort has continued to grow and is widely known today as Bucks Knocks Out Hunger. The initiative is celebrating its seventh anniversary on June 21-22 at Bucks County Community College with the cleverly dubbed “Ruckus in Bucks” – its most ambitious campaign to date.
In 2018, the goal of the county’s signature hunger-fighting event was to raise $80,000 and pack 125,000 meals. BKO Hunger ended up collecting $86,000 thanks to two last-minute “angel” donors. This year, Philpot is upping the ante with a goal of $85,000 and 150,000 meals.
Currently, United Way is approximately two-thirds of the way to reaching that final total thanks to online donations from community members and sponsors such as Bucks County Women’s Initiative, First National Bank and Trust of Newtown, Parx Casino and Penn Community Bank, which kicked off the campaign with a donation of $5,000. BKO Hunger was also the beneficiary of funds collected during Visit Bucks County’s Restaurant Week in April.
According to Philpot, hunger conditions have improved in Bucks County since BKO Hunger’s inception, but the issue remains far from solved.
“We’re still looking at 1-in-11 people are considered food insecure. For our children, the rate is still about 16 percent, so it’s higher among children than it is among our general population,” he said. “That’s still a concern to us. We’re very concerned about kids not getting the essentials they need in their early development years because that impacts a lifetime.”
For many low-income individuals and families, food pantries are necessities. BKO Hunger works to ensure these locations are able to stock healthy foods like fresh produce, allowing clients to maintain a nutrient-rich diet. Funds are distributed to Bucks County Opportunity Council, Rolling Harvest Food Rescue and the weekly Fresh Connect farmers market, which has locations in Bristol, Warminster and Ottsville.
“The Opportunity Council will be able to purchase things for pantries that don’t usually get donated, like eggs or dairy products. Those are things that pantries can always use. They’re always in short supply, but they don’t always have a way to procure them. Our funds will help them do that,” Philpot said.
As for Rolling Harvest, this organization works with local farmers, arranging ways for donated produce to be injected into the food release system.
The rest of the funds collected through BKO Hunger are utilized by United Way to purchase raw materials, which are used to pack thousands of nutritious and shelf-stable meals for food pantries and senior centers on June 21-22.
For the first time, this large-scale event, which is expected to draw more than 600 volunteers, will take place at Bucks County Community College, 275 Swamp Road, Newtown, and feature a food drive. Participants are encouraged to collect non-perishables and bring them in a bag or box. The college is another sponsor. This is also the first time the packing event is held over a two-day span instead of one.
The meals constructed vary from year-to-year in order to give pantries some variety. So what’s on the menu for 2019?
“What we’re going to pack is a new meal that’s like a Spanish rice. We’ll also do a more traditional rice and beans meal,” Philpot said.
The culmination of BKO Hunger is something Philpot looks forward to every year, and he’s thrilled over its expansion, which gives volunteers the opportunity to pack more meals than ever before.
“It is an amazing event. There is such good energy in the room. People are feeling good about what they’re doing. We always say it’s a chance to do good and feel good, but at the same time, I think people know they’re making a difference and giving back. That lends itself to a fun, really optimistic, positive attitude,” he said.
In Philpot’s opinion, the success of BKO Hunger wouldn’t be possible without local support.
“We really like to look at it as a community event where all sectors of the community come together,” he said, adding how volunteers, donors and partners are all instrumental. “It’s so interdependent on so many different groups working together, and it’s beautiful because it always comes together.”
Monetary donations are currently being accepted at uwbucks.org/bkohunger, at any Penn Community Bank, or by mailing a check to the UW Bucks office (413 Hood Blvd., Fairless Hills, PA 19030) with the subject line “BKO Hunger.” Links to volunteer opportunities are also available online. ••
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org