Ephrata Rec gears up for Power Packs project

By on March 13, 2013

By: ROCHELLE A. SHENK Review Correspondent, Staff Writer

Stephanie Weber (left) a member of the Ephrata Rec Center and volunteer for the Power Packs Program, prepares for the upcoming food drive with Tricia Keiser, an employee of the Ephrata Rec Center and program volunteer.

Recognizing that children are our future and that nutrition plays a vital role in the ability of children to learn in school, Ephrata Rec is partnering with the Power Packs Project to implement a 12-week pilot program starting March 14.

Jean Wentz, Ephrata Rec marketing and membership coordinator, said that the pilot program will provide food and nutritional education to 20 families in the Ephrata Area School District throughout the weekend to empower and help children thrive.

Families that are eligible need to financially qualify through the Department of Agriculture "Self Declaration of Need Form" based on 150 percent of the poverty level. Wentz said that the two non-profit organizations worked with Fulton Elementary School to identify the families in need, which is over 40 percent.

She explained that the partnership with Power Packs was first suggested by a former board member.

"It made sense to partner with them to bring this to our community," Wentz said.

A unique weekend nutrition program, Power Packs Project provides participants with a recipe for a low-cost meal, the ingredients to prepare it and some basic staples. The program for low-income families was founded by Joan Espenshade in 2005. Recipes are provided in both English and Spanish, and the recipe cards are punched so that they may be placed in the notebook that’s provided and reused. Information on the cost of ingredients is also included to make it easier to reuse the recipe. Shopping tips and tips on cooking techniques are also provided as part of the Power Pack as well as some basic staples such as cereal and peanut butter.

When Power Packs was launched by Espenshade, it initially served 13 families in one of the School District of Lancaster’s elementary schools. It currently distributes food in Warwick, Manheim Township, Penn Manor and all 13 elementary schools and Wheatland Middle School of the School District of Lancaster. Julie Merrill, the organization’s operations director, said that until 2011 distribution was through schools in several districts.

However in September 2011, the organization added affiliates and now has programs in place at the Lampeter-Strasburg YMCA branch and at HACC’s Lancaster Campus for children in the daycare center. Merrill added that a program in Columbia serves 120 families. There’s also a program to serve students at New Holland Elementary School through Elanco Social Services and Cross Connection Youth Ministries. Volunteers from Garden Spot Village also assist in the program.

In addition to the Rec Center program, Power Packs also hopes to launch another affiliate this spring — the Family Center of Gap — which will serve families at Paradise Elementary School. Merrill estimates that Power Packs now serves 650 families through its core program and 175 to 200 families through its affiliates.

"All of the affiliate programs started small as pilot programs targeting one elementary school, and with community support, they grow from there," Merrill said.

Wentz said that Ephrata Rec’s program will be facilitated completely by volunteers. Stephanie Weber and Tricia Keiser will order the food, which will be stored at the Rec Center. They will also organize volunteers to help package the grocery bags for the families, coordinate distribution on Thursdays and coordinate efforts to seek monetary donations to help subsidize the program.

"I’m a parent, and when I heard that some kids are going hungry over the weekend that really hit me — it’s hard to believe that there could be hunger in our community. I want to set a good example for my kids, so I’m a big believer in getting involved in helping to provide for the needs in our community," Keiser said.

She said that the Power Packs recipes are easy to follow and there are even ideas for left-overs. "I’m going to make some of the recipes for my own family," she said. Both she and Wentz affirmed that with community support, the Rec Center is hoping to continue the program in the fall and eventually expand it.

Wentz said that Our Mother of Perpetual Help helped kick off Ephrata Rec’s Power Packs pilot program with a $1,000 donation. Ephrata Rec is currently holding a food drive for food items needed to stock the warehouse for the program. A list of items is available at ephratarec.com. Monetary donations are also being accepted and can be sent to Ephrata Recreation Center, located at 130 S. Academy Drive, Ephrata PA 17522, attention J. Wentz.

For more information, contact Jean Wentz at 738-1167, extension 105 or jean@ephratarec.com. More POWER PACKS, page A6

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