HONESDALE, PA — When the Wayne County Emergency Food Relief Fund completed its final distribution day in May, Tannis Kowalchuk wasn’t ready to stop. The local government’s goal with …
HONESDALE, PA — When the Wayne County Emergency Food Relief Fund completed its final distribution day in May, Tannis Kowalchuk wasn’t ready to stop. The local government’s goal with the fund was to act as a buffer between widespread job loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the arrival of federal aid in the form of stimulus checks and unemployment benefits.
Kowalchuk, from Willow Wisp Organic Farm in Damascus, PA, had been supporting the relief fund by donating her farm’s produce and volunteering on distribution days. Though the program has ended, she said that food insecurity is just as dire for local residents as it was at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Nothing’s changing for anybody, it’s all the same,” she said.
She decided to apply for a $100,000 grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture so that Willow Wisp could continue providing food, but the grant was denied. This led her to team up with The Cooperage Project, a nonprofit in downtown Honesdale which pivoted its standard operations to address local hunger when the pandemic first hit Wayne County.
“[The Cooperage] has transformed itself from a community event space into, really, a food pantry,” Kowalchuk said. “It’s been amazing.”
The Cooperage is not unaccustomed to providing meals to the community. For years, it has been a partner in Wayne Highlands School District’s free lunch program over the summer. Arrah Fisher, The Cooperage’s executive director, said that it was a natural next step to act as a free lunch pickup spot when COVID-19 forced schools to close.
From that point, Fisher said that things just kept growing. Local businesses “really stepped up,” she said, and began consistently donating meals; others donated crafts and activities for out-of-school children. The project’s efforts turned into the “Family Food Relief Box Program.” Fisher said that by April, the program was feeding between 80 and 100 families a week. Partnering with Willow Wisp, now it’s up to 140 families, she said.
“It’s nice being able to provide food to those who are farther out and maybe can’t make the drive to Honesdale every week,” Fisher said.
The Cooperage has been able to keep up its distribution by successfully securing grants from several different groups, including the John and Helen Villaume Foundation, Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, William E. Chatlos Foundation, Van Horn Foundation, NEPA COVID-19 Response Fund through the Scranton Area Community Foundation and the Emergency Food Relief Fund through the Wayne County Community Foundation.
Recipients of the Family Food Relief Box program can pick up food boxes on Mondays at Willow Wisp from 5:30 to 7 p.m., or Thursdays at The Cooperage Project from 11 a.m to 1 p.m. Applications are available at The Cooperage on Fridays 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., or online at www.bit.ly/
Fisher said that the project will continue through the third week of July. However, she said she doesn’t yet know when The Cooperage will begin transitioning back to its role as a community gathering space.
“As a community hub, we need to adapt to whatever the community needs,” she said. “And what the community needs might look like a pantry for a while.”