JENKINS TWP. — The brochure distributed at Monday’s groundbreaking for the new location for the Weinberg Food Bank stated, “The vision is growing,” and the reality is the demand for food among the region’s needy is growing as well.
The Commission on Economic Opportunity broke ground for the new Monsignor Andrew J. McGowan Center for Healthy Living in the Center Point Commerce and Trade Park East. The 50,000-square-foot facility will be built on 6.3 acres donated by Rob Mericle of Mericle Development, whose company also prepared the site for construction.
William Sordoni of Sordoni Construction Co. said work will begin in September, and he expects the center to open next July.
Gene Brady, executive director of CEO, said the McGowan Center will be home to the Weinberg Regional Food Bank and will promote healthy eating by increasing the availability of nutritious food, including fruits and vegetables, for free distribution through a network of food pantries, soup kitchens and other non-profit agencies.
“Its main mission is to help the residents, especially children, of Northeastern Pennsylvania move from hungry to healthy,” Brady said.
The food bank distributed more than 4.8 million pounds of food last year, more than three times the amount distributed in its first year of operation. Brady said more people each year rely on the food bank to feed themselves and their families.
Sue Gin McGowan, wife of the late William G. McGowan, whose charitable fund donated $2 million toward the $6.4 million center, said the McGowan Fund believes that meeting the immediate nutritional needs of a vulnerable population will lead to self-sufficiency.
“It is with joy and humility that we come together to break ground for this wonderful new facility,” McGowan said. “One of the many accomplishments of Father Joe (Monsignor McGowan) was establishing this Food Bank. We are here today to celebrate the expansion of their original facility.”
The original food bank opened in 1993 with an announcement by Brady joined by Monsignor McGowan, former Gov. Bob Casey, Robert Kelly of the Weinberg Foundation and then Luzerne County Commissioner Chairman Frank Crossin. Kelly and Crossin attended Monday’s press conference, as did Ellen Casey, wife of the late governor.
Judge Hugh Mundy, chairman of the CEO board of directors, opened the festivities.
Developing the center, he said, “was the culmination of years-long efforts to provide expanded facilities for the ever-growing food bank and fulfillment on the part of CEO and the McGowan family to provide more nutritious options for eating among the food bank clients.”
McGowan said the values of her late husband and brother-in-law led to creating the center.
She said that when completed, the Center for Healthy Living will store and distribute healthy food products for about 80,000 low-income residents of Luzerne, Lackawanna, Susquehanna and Wyoming counties, with an emphasis on children and the elderly. The center will also provide nutritional information.
Brady said a community-wide fundraising effort would soon begin to garner public support for the facility.
“This is a major financial undertaking,” he said. “CEO can’t do it alone, even with only the considerable assistance of the people and groups here today. We need help from the people of Northeastern Pennsylvania to finish the job.”
Sue Gin McGowan said 20 years ago she and a group of close friends and family gathered met to discuss how to honor the life and values of Bill McGowan, founder of MCI Corp.
“From humble roots right here in northeastern Pennsylvania, Bill achieved international business success,” she said. “Leading our conversation was Bill’s brother, Monsignor Andrew J. McGowan — also known as Father Joe. Bill believed in the power of education, the promise of medicine and medical research, and the urgency of meeting community needs. We established The William G McGowan Charitable Fund to further these ideals.”
McGowan said that since 1993, the McGowan Fund has granted more than $100 million to viable groups in the areas of education, health care and medical research, and basic human needs. The Rev. McGowan chaired The McGowan Fund board until his death in 2006.
Gert McGowan, Esq., said the project to build a new center has been in the works for years.
“We are all thrilled to have the opportunity to see begin to come to fruition,” she said. “This is great for the McGowan Foundation, the community and for those who will benefit from the center — the people who were so near to my uncle’s heart.”
McGowan said the Weinberg Foundation played a key role in the project and she said she hopes the two foundations can continue to work together.
Kelly, whose involvement with the food bank began two decades, said the “new facility is five times the size of the original space we had.”
Following uncle’s lead
Dan McGowan, vice president of the CEO board of directors, said he was proud to follow his uncle’s legacy.
“We see the need growing every day,” he said. “We’re proud to be part of taking this step to provide for future generations.”
Brady thanked Mericle for donating the land valued at $1.2 million; state Sens. Lisa Baker and John Yudichak for securing a $1 million government contribution via the Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program; Kelly of the Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, which donated $1 million for this project; Luzerne County for contributing $500,000 through a bond issue.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said the new food bank will help Northeastern Pennsylvanians who are struggling with hunger. He said CEO and the Weinberg Foundation deserve praise for their efforts.
“This July, I co-sponsored legislation to provide tax incentives to encourage businesses and farms to donate surplus food to their local food banks,” Casey said. “Passing this legislation can help ensure this food bank and others in the region have the resources they need to continue to help people.”