A study commissioned by Feeding America in 2014 showed that 82,000 people in Erie County are served annually by the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwestern Pennsylvania.
The study found that 20 percent of those served by Second Harvest Food Bank in Erie County are 65 and older.
As part of the University’s Mercy Week, Mercyhurst students and faculty traveled to Second Harvest Food Bank, March 18 to help out the cause and volunteer their time creating boxes of supplies to be sent to older citizens in the extended Erie community.
The project, which took place in two shifts, one at 9 a.m. and one at 1 p.m., was one of several activities held on campus that attempted to highlight the mission of the Sisters of Mercy, who sought to pursue social justice and service the the community.
The Second Harvest Food Bank supplies organizations in 11 counties in Western Pennsylvania with food. Not to be mistaken with a food pantry, Second Harvest collects products from the food industry, food drives and distributes them to agencies, such as food pantries, soup kitchens or shelters which then distribute them on a large scale to individuals in need.
Mercyhurst University Coordinator of Service Learning, Bethany Brun, who helped to organize the event, said that Second Harvest was the ideal service opportunity for Mercy Week.
“It’s is a great organization that accepts large groups, so for me that was a natural fit,” Brun said.
The care packages volunteers created, called “senior boxes,” are made up of food and other essentials. Approximately 2,800 boxes are sent out on a monthly basis from the food bank. The senior boxes are part of a federally run program that provides qualifying elders to receive the box of supplies each month.
“Usually [the people receiving the care packages] don’t make more than $1,200 dollars in a month and after taking out for Medicaid and paying for all of their essentials, they have around $600 left to eat,” Brun said.
The Mercy Week project was a success, according to Brun.
“We hit our goal for the afternoon group, and though we didn’t get as many for the morning group, we were able to work with another group of volunteers and do it anyway,” she said.
Brun noted that one of her goals for the students and the staff members who volunteered for the project was simply to introduce them to the Second Harvest Food Bank, in the hope that they would continue to volunteer there.
“It’s a great organization and is something you can go back and continue to do,” Brun said.
Brun encouraged students to sign up for more volunteer opportunities with the Service Learning, which will accommodate to the needs and schedules of students and provide transportation to certain volunteer locations.
“It’s really easy to get involved with,” said Brun. “[Volunteer organizations] rely so much on volunteers and your time counts for so much when you go.”