Times are tough for Jean, mother of two children aged 1 and 4 and future mother-in-law of a 7-year-old child.
She’s a stay-at-home mom. Her fiancé worked two jobs until the spring, when he quit one after she had a medical emergency. He is desperate for another, but until then they have a new house in Bristol to furnish. Not to mention feeding hungry children who never seem satisfied.
On top of that, a serious car accident in May left Jean with a broken shoulder. Her sister moved in to help. Jean is grateful, but it also means another mouth to feed.
If it hadn’t been for the United Way of Bucks County Help Center, Jean doesn’t know where her family would be. Every three months, she can get food, clothes and household items that she could not otherwise afford.
“My children are my world,” Jean said. “If they don’t eat, I’ll give them my food. It’s a little less stressful (with the HELP Center).”
United Way is seeing more and more families like John’s – families with one or both employed adults, earning too much for child support or other subsidies, but who just seem unable to make ends meet.
These are the families the organization aims to help through Bucks Knocks Out Hunger, an annual fundraising campaign that culminates in a food wrap event on Friday, June 17, where volunteers pack hundreds of healthy meals. and stables for county pantries.
“Our families are struggling,” said Marissa Christie, president and CEO of United Way of Bucks County. “We’ve gone from a few appointments a week for emergency food aid, and now we see four, five and six a day.”
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Through Bucks Knocks Out Hunger, the non-profit organization is raising $110,000 for hunger relief programs. Thursday afternoon, he was less than halfway to that goal.
The funds are all used to provide Bucks County families with healthy food:
- $25,000 will go to Bucks County Opportunity Council to supply dairy, eggs and other foods to its food pantry network
- $25,000 is earmarked for Rolling Harvest Food Rescue to purchase fresh, local produce from Bucks County farmers
- $33,000 will be used to buy raw materials for the Bucks Knocks Out Hunger event on food packaging on Friday
- $20,000 will support Free Fresh Connect Farmers Markets
- The remaining funds will be used to purchase products and support the home delivery of food to homebound seniors in need.
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Donations to Bucks Knocks Out Hunger lag behind previous years. But the need is just as great, if not greater, than ever.
COVID-related job losses have caused a growing number of families to seek help. And while some may think the pandemic is over, many families are still struggling.
At the same time, United Way is also providing assistance to a growing number of Ukrainian refugees who have settled in Bucks County.
To help other families in need, the organization recently increased its eligibility for free food through its Fresh Connect Farmers Markets from 200% of the federal poverty level to 300%. This means that a family of four could earn $83,250 and qualify for assistance.
In contrast, a family of four could not earn more than $34,452 to qualify for food assistance.
United Way executives are unsure why donations are lagging behind. Perhaps those who gave generously over the past two years during the height of COVID think that if the pandemic is over, so is the need. Market volatility could discourage some donors. And others may feel the effects of rising gas and food prices themselves.
Christie called it a “perfect storm” of factors, but remained hopeful that Bucks County would pass, as it always has in the past. Donations will continue to be accepted until the goal is met.
“I remain optimistic,” she said. “We have to. We can’t increase service for programs like Fresh Connect without it.
“The recovery from the Great Recession has been long and slow. That’s what we’re looking for here. We’re not bouncing back. We’re still working.”
“It’s comforting” to know there’s a place to go for help, she said. “It’s very comforting. It takes that weight off my shoulders. I’m still able to provide for my children, even if it’s not directly from me. I thank God that this help center and the my daughter’s school are not short of funding, that they are always ready to help no matter what.”
How to help: Donate to Bucks Knocks Out Hunger at https://www.uwbucks.org/bko-hunger/. Donations can also be mailed to United Way of Bucks County, 413 Hood Blvd., Fairless Hills, PA 19030. Write “BKO Hunger” in the subject line of your check.