MOUNTAIN TOP — With NASCAR legend Richard Petty standing nearby Friday, Gretchen Hunt of the Weinberg Food Bank put the issue of hunger in stark perspective.
“It’s hard to believe, but right here in Northeastern Pennsylvania there are more than 85,000 people that struggle to have food for a healthy life — and 28,000 of them are children,” Hunt said. “Without partners, this fight against hunger would not be possible.”
Petty was at Weis Market in Mountain Top to celebrate this weekend’s NASCAR race at Pocono Raceway and to join Smithfield Food, Inc., which along with Weis Markets and Richard Petty Motorsports, donated a combined 40,000 pounds of protein to the Weinberg Northeast Regional Food Bank.
The joint donation is part of Smithfield’s “Helping Hungry Homes” program that was established in January, 2008. Smithfield is a major sponsor of Petty’s No. 43 race car
Petty has partnered with the Smithfield program to donate thousands of pounds of protein over recent years and to raise awareness about the necessity of providing assistance to people in need.
“This 40,000 pounds of protein is so important to the children, seniors and families we serve,” Hunt said.
Hunt said the Weinberg Food Bank works with a network of more than 200 partners across NEPA.
“And with those partners, we serve nearly 10,000 people every single week,” she said. “Healthy food is the foundation of good health. Foods, high in protein, like this donation today, are critical building blocks for a healthy diet.”
Dennis Pittman of Smithfield, headquartered in Virginia, said Friday’s donation represents some 160,000 servings for local families. He said Smithfield’s program has delivered more than 200 tractor-trailers filled with food to food banks across the country.
“We’ve run these programs border to border and shore to shore,” Pittman said. “We salute our partners, like Weis Markets, and the food banks that deal with folks who are having some of the most difficult times in their lives.”
Popular with fans
Fans of Petty lined up to meet the racing legend and to get his autograph and a photo. Petty accommodated all and smiled for every camera shot.
Petty said he has been all over the U.S. with Smithfield to take part in similar donations to food banks.
“It makes us feel good to be involved with this,” Petty said. “Sometimes we don’t often think about those in need — people who need protein in their diet. This program is critical. We should take care of hungry people right here in the U.S. first.”
With that said, Petty helped unload a tractor-trailer filled with Smithfield products. Hot dogs and hams were packed into the trailer to be delivered to the Weinberg Food Bank warehouse.
“These products will be in homes and refrigerators by next week,” Hunt said.
David Gose, Weis Markets’ senior vice president of operations, said his company has been strongly supportive of food banks throughout its markets and other programs in the community at-large for more than 100 years.
“We strongly believe in giving back to the communities we serve, particularly during a time of increasing demand,” Gose said. “This large donation will benefit thousands of people throughout Northeast Pennsylvania.”
Hunt said the food bank distributed more than 5 million pounds of food in the last 12 months. She said partnerships like the one with Smithfield and Weiss and other national and regional food companies and grocery chains, along with individuals that volunteer in local food pantries are vital.
“Every partner is critical in the work we do to end hunger,” Hunt said.
Hunt said the new Weinberg Food Bank facility — the Monsignor Andrew J. McGowan Center for Healthy Living — is slated to open this fall and will contain increased refrigerated and frozen storage to hold highly nutritious food like protein and produce.
Located in Center Point Commerce and Trade Park East near Pittston, the 50,000-square-foot facility is being built on 6.3 acres donated by Rob Mericle of Mericle Development, whose company also prepared the site for construction
“Large donations like this don’t happen every day, but as we look ahead, we know the need exists and the building is almost ready,” Hunt said. “The Food Bank will then be in a position to significantly increase the availability of food for the hungry in our community.”