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Nonprofit Sets Up Meal Kit Distribution Sites

by and on August 03, 2020 5:30 AM

Each month, Community Bite, a nonprofit working to fight food insecurity in Centre County, sets up shop at the Corner Room in downtown State College to distribute free bags of groceries to its clients.

Inside these bags is a complete meal kit with ingredients that allow clients to make healthy meals at home. Also included are recipe cards, to teach and inspire folks to cook local and healthy food with affordable ingredients in the comforts of their own home.

“It is the same concept as Blue Apron, but we aren’t doing delivery right now,” said Community Bite co-founder Jennifer Swistock.

“You get a bag filled with groceries and recipe cards, and you create a menu by yourself or with friends and family with affordable, nutrient-dense foods in season.”

People can make reservations for the meal kits on the nonprofit’s website or on Instagram and Facebook and then pick them up once a month at the Corner Room location, or at the Food Bank in Bellefonte.

“Just give us a name and the number of people that they will be feeding and then on pick-up day, they can just come and pick it up,” said Swistock.

It is a new way for the group to continue to work towards creating a positive change in the local food network system at a time when food insecurity is an even larger concern. Since 2017, the program has held community outreach dinners, cooking classes and local farm tours in partnership with local culinary experts, farmers, producers and health educators.

“Then COVID happened, and we realized that in order to make sure our guests and volunteers were safe, we changed our business model,” said Swistock.

Instead of coming together in cooking classes and dinners, the meal kits take the learning right into their clients’ own kitchens. And, these meal kits are more than just a bag of groceries — they come with information and recipe cards to inspire both new and seasoned cooks alike to incorporate the new foods into their daily diet.

“I think with this new program, we will be able to have a bigger outreach,” said co-founder Rebecca Larsen.

“Where before it was a chef-prepared great meal and kind of a little health fair, now it is direct information that we know that they are getting. They are getting information on nutrient-dense foods, how to use them, what they are and how to pronounce them.”

“Each meal has a featured ingredient that is inexpensive, but highly nutritious,” said Swistock.

“Last month’s featured ingredient was Greek yogurt and was featured in both sweet and savory dishes. The chocolate mousse was really good, people liked that.”

For August, the pair is looking at a summer grill theme.

“We will use the superfoods of August — ginger, tomatoes, corn, maybe something with berries,” said Larsen.

Swistock said, now, with more people at home due to the shut down, cooking and creating in the kitchen can be a fun activity for families to do together. The program is open to anyone interested.

Community Bite operates entirely through volunteer efforts and 100 percent of the money donated goes toward the food and materials needed for the events. Up until now, one local family has sponsored all of the events for the past three years, but the nonprofit is starting to expand fundraising efforts and donations are accepted through

The program worked with Curtis Shulman, director of operations for the Hotel State College & Company, in order to set up the pick-up location in the heart of State College to make the pickups easy for people to get to.

Throughout the shut down, Shulman set up the Corner Room as a location for people to pick up weekly free groceries and he said he sees this program as taking that idea even further.

“They basically took our idea and made it a lot better. With our food, we were getting food in people’s mouths, but we didn’t have the hands to pull it off in a way that is as detailed as theirs, and as high quality,” said Shulman.

“We truly try to be focused on community first. Obviously, anytime you are in a business, there is the concern that they are only about money, and that is what we don’t want to push. We want the community to know that we are there for them, that there is an emotional tie to this whole shut down that is important. And we are not just here to support the people in this restaurant, but also the people on the outside.”

It all adds up to a community working together to be healthy.

“It is about creating a strong connection and working together on all different levels of the community. You got business owners, you got nonprofits, you got food banks. And we all have a lot going on in our lives right now, but this essentially is the most important because food is important,” said Larsen.

“And healthy food changes the whole spectrum of our daily lives in how we function together.”

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

Vincent Corso is writer for Town&Gown and the Centre County Gazette.
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