SPECIAL REPORT: Local woman makes it her mission to end childhood hunger
BRADFORD COUNTY, PA (WENY) - Food, it's what humans need in order to survive, and for some of us, its also something we take for granted. Not ever thinking twice about when our next meal will be. But unfortunately, that's not the case for millions of children in the United States.
According to NoKidHungry.org, more than 11 million children in the United States live in food insecure homes. Some of those children are living right here in the Twin Tiers.
"A few years ago my daughter came home from school and she was really upset, because the kids at the high school level didn't get free lunch if they didn't have money. Now in the elementary school, they were able to get a milk and a peanut butter and jelly. But at the high school level that stopped. So if they didn't have money then they didn't get to eat, so she was upset and she said mom you have to do something," explains Dani Ruhf, the Executive Director and Founder of Child Hunger Outreach Partners.
Over a span of five years, Dani Ruhf of Bradford County, Pennsylvania began working on creating her own non-profit, that would focus only on childhood hunger. With all of that hard work finally paying off, Dani officially opened "Child Hunger Outreach Partners" also known as, CHOP just last year. Located in the heart of downtown Towanda, its mission is to end childhood hunger in the United States and create an entire generation that doesn't know hunger.
"We started a year ago. So in the one year we've grown from 45 kids a week receiving bags to this specific location to now 1,000 kids a week receiving bags plus 5,000 kids having daily access to an in school pantry," says Dani.
That's just kids in Bradford County. CHOP has already been expanded to neighboring Tioga and Wyoming Counties. Dani has also opened branches in Maine, Maryland, Florida and South Carolina. She is also in the process of opening branches in Georgia, North Carolina, and New York.
"The need is everywhere and the more we look, the more we find. I just had so many great people reach out and ask, when you're ready to expand here, I'm ready to help you," she says.
Dani is able to purchase food for the students very inexpensively, and sometimes free through a partnership with Central PA Food Bank, as well as monetary donations from the public. Through CHOP, three programs are offered to students. The first one is the Backpack Program, where children get a bag of food every Friday to take home with them for the weekend.
"It usually has two fruits, two breakfasts, two dinners, and then some healthy snacks, granola bars that kind of thing," says Dani.
Another program is a pop-up pantry, where Dani and her volunteers will drive into a community that generally is a food desert area. Lastly, there's the in school pantry, which gives students access to pick what food they want and need and then take it home with them for free.
"That program is really successful, because there's no stigma involved. Every kid is going into that room, getting a granola bar, grabbing an apple, getting a can of soup to take home. It doesn't matter what demographic they're in, they're all going in there. So nobody feels any stigma. So that's the in school pantry, and we go through easily 2,000 pounds of food a week in the in school pantries," says Dani.
Although CHOP has been helping thousands of kids all over, making sure they're not hungry and have enough food to take home with them for the weekend, what about during the long breaks? Like Christmas break, when kids won't return to school until after the new year.
"So what we're doing to combat hunger during the holidays, is ramping up their bags for the next few weeks like I said. Also having more stuff in the in school pantries that's meal type stuff. So they can make sure they're taking home boxes of mac and cheese, full box of pasta. So they can continue to take them home, so they have food to eat. We're also ramping up our pop up pantries," says Dani.
Rebecca Stanfield, the Principal at Towanda High School says CHOP has been involved in the Towanda School District for roughly a year now and the response from kids and even parents have been overwhelming.
"There's an overall different climate that we're seeing and a different feeling from the students. Teachers have commented that students are better able to focus, they're able to come down, get a snack. They're able to focus better in class on what they're doing," says Stanfield.
Dani says as part of her 20 year business plan, she would like to completely eliminate hunger in the United States, and is confident she can get it done.
To learn more about Child Hunger Outreach Partners, click here.