Facilitating New Partnerships

COVID-19 reminds us that we are all in this together. United Way of Berks County continues to be inspired by people and organizations working to help our most vulnerable families in the midst of the global pandemic.

For example, Mark Schlott, chief operating officer of R.M. Palmer, reached out to United Way and asked how the candy company could help in these trying times. “We’re proud members of our community and we recognized early on that this was going to have a huge effect on the local population,” Schlott said. “We know United Way receives much of its support through employee contributions. With all the layoffs happening locally, we wanted to help anyway we could.”

Schlott spoke with United Way President Tammy White, about loaning two employees to help. White immediately knew where they were needed: Helping Harvest, our local food bank. Data from United Way’s free community resource hotline, 211, shows referrals for food assistance is in high demand for families, as income is reduced from layoffs, furloughs or decreased hours/pay, White said. “By sharing our organization’s understanding of where gaps exist and bringing organizations together, we can better problem solve. In times like this, we need to think differently and we need to be willing to ask for help,” White said.

Jay Worrall, president of Helping Harvest food bank, said Helping Harvest has seen a massive increase in the demand for food assistance in the wake of COVID-19 firsthand. “In a typical week, we provide 140,000 pounds of food,” Worrall said. “We provided 340,000 pounds of food last week. Usually we have five people in the warehouse, now we have 22 people.”

For the past three weeks, the West Reading-based candy manufactured has lent two of their best to aid Helping Harvest food bank while earning their regular full-time wages, Schlott said. R.M. Palmer forklift operator Irene Brown and manufacturing department lead Maryjane Koch are now dedicating their days to moving thousands of pounds of food at Helping Harvest headquarters which is in turn dispersed to 300 food pantries and shelters throughout the county.

Schlott said he was happy to find that R.M. palmer employees could directly apply their years of experience to Helping Harvest. “They had a great need for skilled warehouse people because of the logistics for the sheer volume of what they are moving in and out of there,” Schlott said. And their work has not gone unnoticed, according to Schlott. “I’m extremely proud of both of them,” Schlott said of the manpower, or rather womanpower, R.M. Palmer is able to provide.

As she packed food, Maryjane expressed gratitude for being a part of the solution. “This is rewarding to know I am helping everybody,” Maryjane said.

Other organizations are helping, like the Reading School District and the Olivet Boys and Girls Club, as they are coordinating food distributions at their sites. Berks County Career and Technology Center has provided truck drivers to ship food, New Castle Lawn and Landscaping recently bought lunch for foodbank workers and building material distributor CH Briggs transported food for Helping Harvest, according to Worrall.

Worrall said that in this time of crisis, Helping Harvest has waved all distribution costs for its hundreds of centers. Contributions like the $20,000 grant recently received from United Way’s Berks COVID-19 Response Fund help with this.

“There are people desperate for food right now,” Worrall said. “It is so uplifting to see people get food, it makes all the extra work worth it.”