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"To love and serve our neighbors as ourselves."

By Nick Gueguen

The Saint Vincent de Paul Societies' new food bank in Hastings, PA has been approved for a $37,000 grant by Catholic Charities USA to go toward building a new food pantry in Hastings.

"The funds for this project originated with a charitable grant from the WalMart Foundation to Catholic Charities USA," Jean Johnstone, executive director of the diocese's Catholic Charities, said. "WalMart's intent was to bring food to those 'living on the margins.'"

Johnstone sees the success in getting the grant as an excellent opportunity for Catholic Charities to help the area.

"It is a great opportunity to work with SVDP Society, the United Way of the Laurel Highlands and the Cambria County Food Security Coalition to expand access to food banks in the more rural part of northern Cambria County," Johnstone said. "Having access to an adequate food supply is part of maintaining dignity for our people and families within the diocese. When this grant became available through our participation in Catholic Charities USA, it was a perfect fit to meet local needs."

Sonny Consiglio, the executive director of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul of Altoona-Johnstown, knows the grant will help the organizations do great things for those in the area who need help providing food for themselves and their loved ones.

"This grant is a blessing for us and for those in the area that will benefit from the new facility," Consiglio said. "A project like this for our area takes a lot of support, and having Catholic Charities provide us with $37,000 helps a great deal."

Travis Hutzell, a grant writer at the United Way of the Laurel Highlands who Johnstone said wrote this grant, explained that the food security coalition targeted improving access to food for people in smaller parts of the area they help.

"Through the United Way of the Laurel Highlands, there's a food security coalition that's been doing some strategic planning around food and security between Cambria and Somerset counties," Hutzell said. "And one of the priority areas was the development and building up the food pantries out in the rural communities because, primarily, a majority of the resources are in the more urban areas, like in the Johnstown, southern area of Cambria County."

Hutzell stressed the value of these organizations teaming together to help the people of the area.

"Well, it just shows and supports the need for collaborative efforts to address our key community needs," Hutzell said. "Food security is high on the totem pole as far as a priority need in our communities. We have a number of households where, underreported, of families that are actually food insecure. ... And, especially in the rural areas, where there [are] barriers such as transportation for our senior-citizen population, and even for low-income families who don't have the extra money to drive to the pantries or have access [to] transportation."

Consiglio said the teamwork among these organizations is vital.

"It is important that we collaborate with many organizations in our area including the United Way of the Laurel Highlands and Catholic Charities because the need is so great," Consiglio said. "Our current food pantry is already servicing about 160 people per month and as we move forward with a new facility we expect that number to increase. Without the help of many this would be very difficult to accomplish."

Johnstone echoed similar sentiments.

"The United Way of the Laurel Highlands is the lead agency for the State Food Program and Food for Families for the federal Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which provides low-income households with emergency food and nutrition assistance at no cost," Johnstone said. "SVDP and Catholic Charities work collaboratively as service providers to ensure households within the diocese have access to life's basic necessities. This grant allowed us to bring all three programs together for the good of the northern Cambria community."

Johnstone said Consiglio will preside over the food pantry construction.

"The construction will start shortly and be completed by the end of October 2017," Johnstone said. "[With] the opening of the new expanded food bank in Hastings, SVDP will close the Carrolltown food pantry."

The grant application included a budget that asked for $3,000 for cement for floors and footers, $30,000 for architectural and pole components and $4,000 for plumbing.

The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul of Altoona-Johnstown is working on money for electricity set-up.

"It will be funded as all other expense will be, through SVDP funds, donations from the community and other fundraising efforts needed to complete the project," Consiglio said.

Hutzell said he's exploring separate grants as well to help pay for the work on the pantry.

"I actually submitted a grant for the Community Foundation [for the Alleghenies] to fund some supplies," Hutzell said. "Saint Vincent de Paul, they did a fund drive, and I think they raised a couple of thousand dollars to put toward the electrical and refrigerant installation as well."

Catholic Charities USA is giving Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown the $37,000 through a sub-grant between the two agencies that was activated July 25.

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