If there’s one thing the staff at United Way of Bucks County refuses to tolerate, it’s local hunger. According to Tim Philpot, the organization’s impact director for health, statistics have drastically improved over the years. But they remain far from great.
“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.”
Rather than sit back and hope these conditions change, Philpot and the United Way team are taking action. In fact, they recently caused a “Ruckus in Bucks” with their most ambitious and successful Bucks Knocks Out Hunger campaign to date.
The hunger-fighting initiative, which celebrated its seventh year, tasked the county with raising $85,000 to help stock the shelves of local food pantries with nutritious items for low-income families and individuals. Earlier this month, it was announced that BKO Hunger achieved its lofty goal thanks to donations from individuals, businesses and civic groups.
In 2018, BKO Hunger aimed to collect $80,000, which it reached thanks to a last-minute challenge grant from community member Al Brown, of Doylestown. This year, giving remained strong throughout the campaign, and the $85,000 goal was reached only 10 days after the culminating food-packing event, held on June 21-22 at Bucks County Community College in Newtown.
“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,” Philpot said. “That lends itself to a fun, really optimistic, positive attitude.”
Over the span of these two days, volunteers hailing from across the county prepared more than 150,000 healthy, shelf-stable meals for area pantries and senior centers – another record-breaking achievement.
“We’re really so grateful for the generous support of so many from Bucks County,” said Philpot. “While Bucks Knocks Out Hunger enjoys strong support from our corporate partners, it’s really individual donations, some small and some large, that make BKO possible.”
Sponsors for 2019 included 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.
The $85,000 will be 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. Each will use the funds to provide dairy, produce, meats and other rarely-donated foods to clients, ensuring they’re able to maintain a nutrient-rich diet. A portion of the money was used to purchase items for the packing event.
“Funds raised from BKO allow us to purchase food items that are not normally donated to food pantries, such as eggs and dairy,” said Heather Foor, food program manager at Bucks County Opportunity Council. “Eggs are loaded with high-quality proteins and vitamins and are one of the most requested items from pantry visitors.”
For Philpot, it’s a thrill to see the current impact of BKO Hunger, which started as an effort to restock pantry shelves after Hurricane Sandy forced many towns to live without power for several days. The project has consistently grown every year since, and, thanks to local support, he doesn’t see that stopping anytime soon.
“We really like to look at it as a community event where all sectors of the community come together,” he said. “It’s so interdependent on so many different groups working together, and it’s beautiful because it always comes together.”
United Way of Bucks County accepts donations year-round to fight hunger. These can be made online at uwbucks.org/bkohunger, dropped off at any Penn Community Bank, or mailed to the UW Bucks office (413 Hood Blvd., Fairless Hills, PA 19030) with the subject line “BKO Hunger.” ••
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org