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Single mom thanks Give A Christmas for helping her this holiday season

One simple donation can change the life of a local child.

Single mom Tyler Green is working to provide a better life for her 6-year-old son, but the work can amount to a slow climb up the ladder of economic progress.

In the meantime, Christmas is quickly approaching.

The 25-year-old mom is working overtime at a fast-food restaurant while hoping for no ordinary gift for her young son this holiday.

Green wants to buy a kid-friendly computer for Syaire, a student in the Pennridge School District, so her first-grader can play educational games and use children’s learning programs, like ABCmouse.com, while at home.

Thanks to the generous donations of The Intelligencer readers, Green received a $50 Wal-Mart gift card, which she will use toward Syaire’s gift.

The mom knows education is the key to a better life.

Green hopes to pursue higher education in the near future, but, right now, all of her efforts are focused on making ends meet. Life as a single mom is difficult.

“It’s very hard because you are doing everything on your own, and you’ve got bills to pay. It’s a struggle,” she said.

All of the money raised through the annual Give A Christmas program is administered by the Bucks County Opportunity Council and the Keystone Opportunity Center. Social service professionals identify deserving recipients to help them meet a specific need like rent assistance, home heating, groceries or Christmas gifts.

At this time of year, parents are reaching out to the Bucks County Opportunity Council on behalf of their children. Low-income families across the county are struggling to put gas in the car and food on the table year ’round, and there are no extra dollars left for Christmas gifts for their young children.

The gift cards provided through the Give A Christmas program bring hope to single moms like Green who are shouldering the financial burden alone.

Of the low-income families who receive assistance from Give A Christmas, 85 percent are single-mom households.

“It helps a lot. For single mothers who don’t have any options they do help. It’s a good place to go,” she said of the Bucks County Opportunity Council.

Green is hoping next Christmas will be merrier.

“This year has a been struggle for me, and I’m just looking for a better year next year and hopefully just get a fresh start.”

You don’t have to be a Rockefeller to make an impact in your community

Often, giving a gift to someone else feels even better than receiving one.

Giving ignites joy in our hearts and can be a deep expression of gratitude in our own lives. American financier and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. must have sensed that as he gave $537 million to charitable causes during his lifetime.

He is quoted as once saying: "Think of giving not as a duty but as a privilege."

But you don’t have to be a Rockefeller to make an impact in your community.

The Intelligencer’s annual Give A Christmas program provides a unique opportunity for average folks to make an extraordinary impact by helping local low-income families struggling to put food on the table and gifts under the tree for their little ones.

Dorothy and George Bessette donated $150 to this season’s fund. When they plan for their family's holiday expenses, the Jamison couple always makes room in the budget for Give A Christmas.

“We’ve done it for years because it helps local people,” said George Bessette. “We just feel it’s a very worthwhile thing for people who have fallen on hard times and just need a lending hand.”

Thanks to The Intelligencer’s partnership with the Bucks County Opportunity Council and the Keystone Opportunity Center, Bessette feels secure in knowing that every dollar donated goes to a deserving recipient to meet a specific need. Those needs often include help with home heating, groceries or Christmas gifts for children in single-parent, low-income households.

Every dollar The Intelligencer readers give goes into the Give A Christmas program. Except for credit card fee costs, Calkins Media and its partners cover the administrative costs. So every financial donation — large or small — can have a maximum impact.

For the last several years, Jim Tallia has donated to Give A Christmas. This season, he gave $500. The engineer and small-business owner recalls what it’s like to be a kid from a blue-collar family and living in an upscale community. Just like his own dad, Tallia has worked hard to provide a happy Christmas for his children over the years.

“We’ve done everything we can so our kids have a nice Christmas but it’s horrible to think that there are kids that are in our neighborhoods, counties and school districts that are struggling,” said Tallia, of Buckingham.

And now that his youngest child is in college, Tallia focuses on providing for local kids throughout the year. This fall, he teamed up with the Bucks County Opportunity Council to buy backpacks and school supplies for impoverished kids in Bucks.

"It felt good to do that so that some kids can feel good about themselves when they go to school,” he said.

Michelle Fluck and her husband, Randy, have donated to Give A Christmas since its inception in 1988.

“It’s just kind of the way I’m wired. I think it’s important to give back,” said Fluck, of Perkasie. “It gives you a good feeling to help others.”

But when her 58-year-old husband died of a massive heart attack a year ago, Fluck said she gained a new perspective on what it means to give and receive from others.

From cards to casseroles, she was shown an outpouring of support from loved ones. As a lifelong "giver," she learned for the first time what it was like to accept help from others.

“I just said to so many people that were so good to me that ‘it would take the rest of my life to pay it forward for all the good that was done to me,’” said Fluck.

This Christmas season, Fluck donated $50 in memory of her husband.

“It means even more now to give when I can where I can.”

Give A Christmas partners with longtime community service agencies

The holiday shopping season is in full swing, and as you hit the stores looking for the best gifts for family and friends, also consider a gift to a neighbor in need through The Intelligencer's Give A Christmas fund.

All of the money raised through the 28th annual program is administered by the Bucks County Opportunity Council and the Keystone Opportunity Center. 

When readers contribute to Give A Christmas, social service workers use those dollars to help deserving recipients meet a specific need like rental and home heating assistance, paying for groceries or Christmas gifts for children.

Tammy Schoonover is the director of community services at the Bucks County Opportunity Council, which distributes gift cards to needy families in Central and Upper Bucks County.

“People are extremely grateful. They don’t expect it,” she said. “Without it I think Christmas would be pretty slim for all of the kids.”

The Bucks County Opportunity Council was founded more than 50 years ago as a result of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on poverty. Medicare and Medicaid was established, Social Security benefits were expanded and the Food Stamp Act became a permanent program.

In his 1964 State of the Union address, Johnson said "Our aim is not only to relieve the symptoms of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it."

Among the government initiatives to address poverty, Johnson established community action agencies in every county. The nonprofit Bucks County Opportunity Council is one of those agencies.

“He wanted an agency in the community that would respond to that community’s specific needs,” said Schoonover.

This fiscal year, the Bucks County Opportunity Council served more than 10,000 individuals. And as the lead food agency in the county, it provides donated food to more than 40 food pantries and distribution sites — serving more than 71,000 people in 2015-16.

Twenty years ago, the organization changed its strategy from just helping people cope with poverty to lifting people out of poverty and off government assistance. Participants can voluntarily join the self-sufficiency program. It helps them attain education, employment and learn skills like budgeting.

In the self-sufficiency program, “we work with a family for up to five years to help them identify goals and do the things they need to do to get off all government assistance,” said Schoonover.

The primary focus is education and job training.

“This sets us apart from other (community action agencies). Everybody is free to decide what works in their community and we wanted to definitely help people move out of poverty and help give them a hand up,” she said.

Thanks to the generous donors of the Give A Christmas program, individuals can provide a few gifts for their kids or put a hearty holiday meal on the table while they are working toward a goal of economic independence.

“People who are living in the day-to-day struggles of the low economic environment are just trying to survive. They can’t plan for Christmas,” said Schoonover.

Except for credit card fees, every dollar The Intelligencer readers give goes into the Give A Christmas program, and Calkins Media and its partners cover the administrative costs.

“This is critical in giving them the Christmas that others enjoy,” said Schoonover.

So far, readers have donated $7,356 to this season’s campaign.

 Empowered families turn hardship into success

The average family entering the program earns $8,952 a year, and those who graduate leave averaging $48,280. And judging from several touching stories of hardship-turned-into-success, the self-worth and confidence are valued far more than their annual salaries.

The program this year graduated 13 families, nine of whom attended the dinner ceremony at the Warrington Country Club. For more than 20 years, BCOC members have come across families down on their luck and in desperate need of assistance for an assortment of reasons. Bad relationships. Substance abuse. Medical costs. Transportation issues. An inherited cycle of poverty. And many more.

These families don't get in this situation by choice. And when the program was founded, the goal was to help families willing to help themselves by handing them a rope from which they could pull themselves up. "Our approach addresses the root causes that keep low-income people in poverty," according to the BCOC website. "We help participants acquire the education, skills and employment to permanently leave poverty as opposed to merely cope in it. The program transforms lives and often ends a cycle of poverty that existed for generations."

One common theme from this year's graduates was an education component, in which Bucks County Community College played an important role for several of the honorees. The program is not an entitlement. Public funding and private contributions combine to aid families, often in the deepest of despair, to come out ahead, thanks to a bevy of dedicated counselors who clearly care for the people in their program. Often, the counselors were just as excited as the graduates themselves.

All graduates achieved the following, according to the BCOC:

 

  • Employment that pays a family sustaining wage.
  • Access to safe reliable transportation.
  • Affordable housing that is safe and comfortable.
  • A balanced household budget.
  • Health plan for the entire family.
  • Freedom from all welfare subsidies, including cash assistance, food access cards and subsidized housing.

The final graduate to receive her diploma Wednesday — Jackie (no last names were used) — received the top honor with the Mark Worthington Award. She earned an associate degree from BCCC and works as a food service manager for a local convenience store chain. While she didn't get into great detail about why she started in the program — the emotion of the moment said a lot about how far she and her two extremely proud sons had come — the exhilaration of being able to say that she could leave her housing voucher for another family in need meant the world to her. Eyes welled up around the room.

BCOC honored Worthington, who has been a longtime, significant contributor to the program and he delivered a heartfelt thank you and show of admiration for the 20th graduating class. And BCOC Executive Director Erin Lukoss closed with a nice wrap-up for a touching evening.

It's easy to get caught up in everyday life. Work is busy. The kids are stressing about school. The electricity bill is about to shoot up for the winter. The car needs tires. No ideas for dinner for the company coming over on Saturday. At some point, something has to be done with the fallen leaves.

We can go through everyday life with an assortment of such worries, but for most of us, those types of things will get resolved before too long. On Wednesday night, I was reminded how fortunate most of us are in our everyday lives. The Bucks County Opportunity Council celebrated its 20th anniversary of honoring graduates from its Economic Self-Sufficiency Program. The program, according to its website, "empowers low-income families with the education, skills and resources necessary to achieve and maintain economic self-sufficiency without any future need for cash welfare subsidies."

It was a great reminder that sometimes people just need a chance. A helping hand. A random act of kindness. This graduating class, and those before them, asked for help. It's what they have done with that help that is inspiring.  So Jackie, Alex, Deborah, George and Laurie, Angela, Bonnie, Matt, Nereida, Nykeisha, Joanne, Deborah, Kerrian and Patricia, congratulations for a job well done. You deserve the recognition your earned.

Shane Fitzgerald is executive editor of the Bucks County (Pa.) Courier-Times, the Doylestown (Pa.) Intelligencer and the Burlington County (N.J.) Times. 215-949-4160. 215-345-3118. 609-871-8157. Email: sfitzgerald@calkins.com. Twitter: @sfitzg5.

 

Hunger relief gets a boost in Bucks County

The County of Bucks has established a unique agreement with the Bucks County Opportunity Council by providing refrigerator and freezer space in the County’s Central Warehouse Facility to help the Council store donated food.

The refrigerator and freezer space is slated to serve over 80 food pantries, shelters, soup kitchens and low-income senior centers around the County. The need for the space was brought to the attention of Commissioners Rob Loughery and Diane Ellis-Marseglia by Cathy Snyder, Executive Director of Rolling Harvest Food Rescue.

Rolling Harvest has facilitated a significant increase in the donation of healthy foods over the past four years, but lack of available storage impeded distribution to local pantries and those in need.

“This cold storage hub will be a game-changer in helping us to keep more healthy food in the county for our 62,000 residents who experience food hardship every day, 39% of whom are children,” says Cathy.

“The availability of food to pantries is enormously important to assist those in need in our county,” explained Commissioner Charles Martin. “It is encouraging that the Opportunity Council has been able to generate supplies that warrant additional food storage areas. The county had available underutilized freezer and refrigerator space at our main warehouse and the Commissioners are pleased to see it put to good use.”

The Council distributes food every weekday throughout the county through its food pantry system. Frozen and fresh food donations come from a variety of sources including Applegate Meats, Wegmans, Delaware Valley University’s Hope of the Harvest Charitable Garden, and Rolling Harvest Food Rescue.

“This space will help us manage our current donations more efficiently and provide an opportunity to increase our donor base now that we have the capabilities to handle large donations,” Heather Foor, Food Program Manager for the Opportunity Council, said.

In addition, United Way of Bucks County, through its Bucks Knocks Out Hunger Campaign, contributed $15,000 to the Opportunity Council for essential equipment and materials to use in the freezer and refrigerator space.

The grant was provided through one of the United Way’s “Community Solutions Teams” which unanimously voted to invest the money in this project because it helps fill a clear gap in the community.

It is the first time in the four-year history of Bucks Knocks Out Hunger that a team of community members was invited to determine how a portion of the BKO Hunger proceeds could be invested.

If you would like more information about BCOC’s food program or would like to volunteer with the food program, visit www.BCOC.org or call 215-345-8175.

http://6abc.com/news/rolling-harvest-helps-feed-thousands-of-hungry-families-in-bucks-county/1077902/ 

 

Budget Impasse Hits Area's Most Vulnerable

Posted: Monday, November 9, 2015 6:00 am

By Freda R. Savana, Staff writer

As Pennsylvania enters its fifth month with no budget, many of the agencies serving Bucks and Montgomery counties' most vulnerable residents are facing some hard choices.

At A Woman's Place, which operates Bucks' only domestic violence shelter, administrators are borrowing $75,000 a month to keep the doors open, the staff paid and programs running, said Ifeoma U. Aduba, the agency's executive director.

Using reserves and a line of credit, the Doylestown Township-based center has been able to keep afloat. It has frozen hiring, spread out staff and volunteers to cover an array of programs that protect women and children from abuse, while maintaining a 28-bed shelter.

"We're trying to keep as whole as we can," said a frustrated Aduba. "When this started in July, we projected a worst-case scenario that could take us through December."

In a recent meeting with state legislators, however, Aduba and other heads of social service agencies said they were not encouraged the stalemate in Harrisburg will be resolved soon.

"I'm worried and concerned," said Erin Lukoss, executive director of the Bucks County Opportunity Council. "I wasn't assured there's an end in sight."

The Doylestown-based council is Bucks' community action agency, meaning it receives a community service block grant each year, where $700,000 in federal funds is channeled through the state and county in quarterly payments.

With the budget in a lockdown, "that money is just sitting there," said Lukoss, while the agency dips into its reserves and a line of credit to maintain its many programs for the needy.

"We're treading water, putting off projects, hiring and expansions," the director said.

Bucks County has provided $112,000 to BCOC for its food grant to supplement area pantries, which had more than 70,000 visits in the 2014-2015 fiscal year, Lukoss said.

"We're very grateful, but it doesn't go very far. The food pantries are hurting, they need help," she said.

Bucks County has also been covering the opportunity council's rental assistance program.

Jon Rubin, director of human services for Bucks, said the county has been paying all its contracts with social service agencies, to the tune of $7 million each month of the impasse.

While that money will be returned when a budget is adopted, the loss of interest to the county coffers will not be.

Rubin said the county commissioners intend to make an official request to the state to have all costs associated with the borrowed money reimbursed.

Going forward, Rubin said, the county will be evaluating "week-by-week" whether it can continue funding services such as children and youth services and aging and adult programs.

"It's putting a tremendous stress on the system," said Rubin, adding, "we've done our very best to provide all the highest quality services to the best of our ability."

Last week, Montgomery County said it would no longer reimburse county social service agencies for the state's piece of their budgets.

Based on the recommendation of its chief financial officer, the commissioners reluctantly voted to cut off the support.

For the smaller agencies that don't have reserves or are unable to borrow cash, Montgomery County officials said they wanted to be notified of emergencies. They also said they would offer any non-financial support it can to keep the services going.

"My heart is literally sick for those who need services and now may be put at risk," said Commissioner Chairman Josh Shapiro during last week's board meeting.

Laurel House, which operates Montgomery County's only women's domestic violence shelter, has no county contracts so it has not been receiving any support during the budget crisis, said Beth Sturman, its executive director.

"All our state and federal funding is tied up. At this point we're $256,000 behind."

Sturman said the Norristown-based agency has been able to provide services by using its reserve funds. "Fortunately, our board had the foresight to create and fund an emergency reserve."

However, Sturman noted, "we thought that would be for a roof collapsing, not for a budget impasse."

While the organization continues to provide services, including a 27-bed shelter, Sturman said it may soon need to use a line of credit, if the stalemate isn't resolved by January.

"We've done our best to supplement, but we are quickly getting to the point where we can't do that anymore," she said.

With winter approaching, social service leaders are deeply concerned. "If this isn't fixed, the winter will be horrific," Sturman said.

Tracy Mellor, executive director of Bucks County Housing Group, is worried, too.

"Beyond the finances, I'm afraid of the loss of trust between clients and providers," she said.

And, she noted, the agency has 44 families currently in supportive housing and 15 in programs waiting to move to more permanent homes.

"We can't move anyone out," said Mellor.

State Rep. Scott Petri, R-178, attended a meeting with some of the agency leaders last week.

He offered an apology to those victimized by the impasse. "They are literally hostages in a negotiation, it's not fair," said the legislator.

Aduba, of A Woman's Place, cautioned, "I don't think people have fully imagined what it would look like if all these programs shut down."

Staff writer Margaret Gibbons contributed to this story.

Freda R. Savana: 215-345-3061; email, fsavana@calkins.com; Twitter, @fredasavana

11 graduate from the Bucks County Opportunity Council Economic Self-Sufficiency program

Posted: Friday, October 23, 2015 5:00 pm

Clayton C. Walsh, Correspondent

Almost two decades ago, the board of directors at the Bucks County Opportunity Council noticed a trend.

For close to 25 years, they followed their mission and helped low-income residents of Bucks County remove obstacles and solve problems that blocked the path to economic self-sufficiency.

After measuring the impact of their programs, they found that many of the individuals and families they were helping did well enough in the short term, but over the long run, things didn't working out.

In response, the BCOC created the Economic Self-Sufficiency Program in 1997, with the mission of helping low-income people and families overcome barriers that prevent a better, more financially stable life.

Last week, 11 new faces joined the more than 280 graduates from the program. The group celebrated Wednesday along with close to 200 friends, family, program coaches and community supporters at the Bucks Club in Warwick.

“I grew up in a family where I saw a lot of poverty and hardship,” said 2015 graduate Larissa Wilcox, attending the banquet with her husband, Eric, and 8-year-old son, Chase.

For years, Wilcox found herself stuck in a cycle of frustration and financial missteps that was all too familiar. It was a similar pattern affecting 33,433 other Bucks County residents living below the federal poverty guideline, according to 2013 U.S. Census figures in the bureau's American Community Survey.

A one-time teenage mother struggling to get by, Wilcox said she entered the Self-Sufficiency program in August 2013 with a 6-year-old son and a willingness to do what was required to succeed.

Upon enrollment, Wilcox was paired with a coach, developed a financial plan and soon after enrolled at Penn State Abington.

“The first thing they did was develop a financial budget, then they help fill in the financial gaps you run into,” said Wilcox.

Boosts to everyday life in the form of gas cards, food and textbooks provided by the opportunity council's donors, along with community members, helped pave the path toward her degree. So did monthly meetings with her BCOC coach, which helped keep things on track and make adjustments where necessary.

During the program, Wilcox earned the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce Women in Business Scholarship in June 2014. She finished the BCOC program in 1½ years and is now employed with the Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission.

Larissa and Eric married earlier this year, and the couple are expecting a baby in January. She was also recently accepted to Lock Haven University where she plans to earn a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling.

“When exceptions break the cycle of poverty, it’s called the fulfillment of the American Dream,” said Tammy Schoonover, BCOC director of community services. “Being poor means being unprotected.”

According to the Census Bureau, Bucks County has one of the fastest-growing populations of people below the poverty line in the state. While the livable wage for a family of three in the county is $51,563, many struggle to reach the $24,250 considered the threshold of poverty. There are 10,510 households that receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits, and of the 50,721 rental units in Bucks, 49 percent of those renters are experiencing a housing cost burden, meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income toward rent.

According to the BCOC, the average income of this year’s class at enrollment was $16,073, with four receiving welfare and/or a housing subsidy, three who were unemployed and eight who were working for less than a family sustaining wage.

Household earnings for this year’s graduates average $52,185 annually, according to the opportunity council. Of this year’s 11 graduates, eight have improved their employment situation and the other three have obtained employment during the program, which typically takes around 33 months to complete.

Nikki Matthews, a program graduate from 2006 who won this year’s BCOC Community Service Award, said much of what she has today she owes to her time in the program.

“The love I received from the opportunity council has helped me accomplish my goals,” she said.

Clayton Walsh is a freelance writer. He can be reached through editor Harry Yanoshak at 215-345-3051 or hyanoshak@calkins.com.

Hope of the Harvest Charitable Garden Receives Grant

Posted: Tuesday, September 29, 2015 5:00 pm    By Freda R. Savana, staff writer


United Way of Bucks County gave Delaware Valley University a $12,000 check Tuesday to support the school's charitable garden. Hope of the Harvest has used DelVal's land to grow food for those in need since 2012. The food is then distributed to area food pantries.  

The money, raised by United Way's 2015 Bucks Knocks Out Hunger campaign, will help cover costs for the garden's 2016 growing season, said Jamie Haddon, United Way Bucks County president and CEO. Haddon, a '95 DelVal graduate, presented the check to the university's interim dean of agriculture and environmental sciences, Christopher Tipping.

"The United Way's support has helped us to produce more pounds of food for people in need. They have also helped with logistics and community awareness of the garden," said Tipping in a statement. The next goal for the garden, said DelVal, is to educate the community on how to start similar, smaller efforts. "We'd like to provide a model or a "blueprint" for raised-bed production," said Scott Smith, DelVal's assistant farm manager and horticulture production manager. "By educating other groups, we can expose more people to the science of agriculture and have more of an impact. We want to help people create scalable projects that would work with smaller amounts of land," said Smith.

Hope of the Harvest is a partnership between DeVal, Philabundance, Bucks County Opportunity Council, United Way of Bucks County, The Land O'Lakes Foundation, The Reinvestment Fund and the Lehigh Valley Community Foundation/Pharo Family Fund. Freda R. Savana: 215-345-3061; email, fsavana@calkins.com; Twitter, @fredasavana

*Note: The Bucks County Opportunity Council participates in Bucks County's Point In Time survey each year. In addition, the Opportunity Council's services provided assistance to nearly 100 local homeless families last year.*

 

 

Bucks County expects little change in homeless population  

By James McGinnis Staff writer The Intelligencer

Posted: Thursday, January 29, 2015 6:30 pm | Updated: 6:34 am, Sat Jan 31, 2015.

Home was a Route 13 jughandle.

Home was a bus stop outside the library.

Such places have been home to some for longer than they can remember, and they have no designs on ever going anywhere else.

On Thursday, they were included in the annual Bucks County homeless count and categorized by race, age, veteran status and disability. The "point-in-time" homeless census occurs on the same date each year as designated by the federal government.

Lower Bucks search coordinator Keith Smothers led volunteers to many of the same homeless camps as last year. And before heading out, Smothers predicted that many of those camps could be empty because the occupants were out working day jobs. 

Angel Roman, 35, is one of them. Roman said he worked shifts at a bunch of local fast food restaurants and returned "home" nightly to a tent in the woods. 

On Thursday, Roman walked through the dirty snow off Route 13, carrying all of his belongings in a series of overstuffed, white plastic shopping bags. He's been homeless for nearly two years, he said.

For Bruce Miller, it's been more like three decades.

Miller, 59, described going homeless sometime in the mid 1980s. He lives "on the jughandle." He said he doesn't feel the cold anymore.

Bucks County's official homeless estimate could be released sometime early next week. Last year, the government reported 519 men, women and children living in shelters, transitional housing or on the streets here.

And that number isn't likely to change much, predicted Roger Collins, Bucks County's director of housing and community development.

It's just too expensive for some to live here, Collins said.  

U.S. Census numbers bear that out. In Bucks, homeowners monthly spend an average $1,604 on housing, according the census. That's $503 more than the national average. Locally, renters were spending about $1,079 monthly. And, rents were about 20 percent cheaper nationwide.

Rent is forcing people into the shelters, said Alan Johnson, who's been volunteering with the homeless count since 2009. "We had a 63-year-old woman brought into one of the Code Blue shelters by a police officer because she couldn't pay her rent," he said.

"I compare the homeless to the infantry. They're the survivors," he added. "They live on their stomachs."

Nationwide, records show America's homeless population has been on the decline, slightly — down from an estimated 672,000 people in 2007 to as many as 610,000 last year.

That national calculation includes an estimated 215,000 people living on the streets — roughly the same population as the city of Reno, Nevada.

Bucks' homeless population rose with the recession. Just 272 sheltered and unsheltered homeless people were reported locally in 2007. Within four years, that number had jumped to 510, records show.

Among them is Jerry Duncan, who wandered alone Thursday outside the Levittown Library in Bristol Township. Duncan, 42, said he was laid off in 2007 and ended up on the streets about two years ago.

"I sleep in the bus stop," he said. "I have my blankets, but the cold wind comes up from under my bench. It's horrible." 

James McGinnis: 215-704-0451; email: jmcginnis@Calkins.com Twitter @James_McGinnis

 


 

ACCORDING TO BRADY: Who's hungry? More people than you'd expect

By Greg Vellner, Montgomery Media

Published: Monday, December 08, 2014

Who’s hungry?

In Bucks County, you might be astonished to learn 61,570 of your friends and neighbors (that’s about 1 in 10) are considered “food insecure.” In other words, they wake up hungry, go to school or work hungry and go to bed hungry. The next opportunity to eat? Uncertain.

What is known is this: the figure is roughly eight times the population of Doylestown; eight times that of Quakertown and four times that of Southampton. It represents 9.8 percent of total county population.

That’s a dark portrait — one that seems even more distressing during the holiday season aplenty.

“There is a terrific need in Bucks County for people who are hungry,” said Eileen Albillar, volunteer and community connections manager, Bucks County Opportunity Council (BCOC). “More and more people are coming in, but there’s just not enough resources.”

I know what some of you are thinking: those people should get up off the sofa and get a job. Guess what? Most already are employed, but don’t earn enough to buy an adequate amount of food to feed themselves and their families. Have you examined your own grocery bill lately? Egads!

Some — but not all — qualify for assistance. It’s that segment of the working hungry who don’t qualify — not counted among the 61,570 — that’s growing.

“The other thing we’re finding is people who are food insecure don’t necessarily qualify for, say, food stamps or things like that,” said Heather L. Foor, food and nutrition program manager, BCOC. “There are, fortunately, ways to get support. They might qualify for food at a food pantry.”

BCOC oversees a network of 27 food pantries, senior citizen centers and church groups in communities throughout the county. The nonprofit organization also runs food and nutrition programs, along with special efforts involving distribution of non-perishable goods and fresh produce.

“We provide them [the network groups] with access to food, as well as funding to help them keep their shelves stocked for the needy families,” said Albillar. “We do that through community donations, private funding and some government funding.”

Charity, indeed, begins at home, and if you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution, consider joining this food fight.

“People can volunteer with us in a variety of ways,” said Albillar, noting Bucks County’s 9.8 percent rate compares to Pennsylvania’s 14.3 percent, with an estimated 1.82 million people food insecure statewide. “Volunteers help us with driving, donation pickups, delivering food donations and helping us internally with sorting food, data entry and things like that.”

For more information, visit BCOC at www.bcoc.org.

Greg Vellner is a columnist for Montgomery Media.

 


As we enter the holiday season, Give A Christmas arrives    

Sellersville woman and her disabled son struggle

Posted: Sunday, December 7, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 8:37 am, Mon Dec 8, 2014.

By Freda R. Savana Staff Writer, The Intelligencer

A good Christmas for Nicole Simoes and her son, Christopher, means being able to pay the electric bill.

The 45-year-old Sellersville woman works as often as possible as a substitute aid for a local school district, but last year was especially difficult, as her 15-year-old disabled son was hospitalized for nearly six weeks.

With help from the Bucks County Opportunity Council and a generous individual donor, Simoes paid her utility bill and rent. Wal-Mart gift cards also helped buy a few gifts.

“It was just a big help,” said Simoes, whose son has Lowe syndrome. The disorder affects the brain, eyes and kidneys and can include developmental delays, seizures and weak muscle tone that contributes to feeding and breathing problems. Christopher is nonverbal.

While Simoes said it wasn’t easy asking for assistance, she realized “sometimes you have to swallow your pride and take the help.”

During the weeks Christopher spent at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Simoes was unable to work as she spent all her time with her son. “I was living in the room with him,” she said.

Falling behind in her bills, exhausted from single-handedly caring for her child, Simoes continues to persevere.

She’s taking online classes to get her bachelor’s degree in education — she already earned her associate’s degree — and she remains optimistic.

“It’s one day at a time,” she said. “It’s all you can do.”

Freda Savana: 215-345-3061;

email: fsavana@calkins.com;

Twitter: @fredasavana

 


As we enter the holiday season, Give A Christmas arrives     

Posted: Sunday, November 23, 2014 1:00 am | Updated: 7:14 am, Mon Nov 24, 2014.
By Freda R. Savana Staff Writer

 Confronted with homelessness, unemployment and poverty, life can feel hopeless. But, given an opportunity to meet those challenges, people can and do overcome the obstacles to create new, strong lives.   The Bucks County Opportunity Council is one such place where those who are struggling to gain a foothold can find assistance.   Jerri Boarts is one such example.  After her husband died, Boarts, 57, had to find a way to raise four children on her own.   Fortunately, she said, she found Section 8 subsidized housing, which was especially difficult because she had two boys and two girls, which meant she had to find an affordable three-bedroom apartment.  “They (BCOC) helped me secure a place for us to live,” the Warminster resident said.

 The opportunity council was there again, in 2012, when Boarts lost her job and went through all of her savings.  A 2014 graduate of the council’s economic self-sufficiency program, Boarts is now working again and grateful for the support she found at the agency.  BCOC offered “a place where someone knew what you were going through. They are the brightest star in my notebook of resources,” she said.   With readers’ generous donations to The Intelligencer’s Give A Christmas program, the Opportunity Council, along with the Souderton-based Keystone Opportunity Center, are able to help people like Boarts and thousands of others.  Keystone, which serves residents in Montgomery County and Upper Bucks County, provides rental assistance, money for car repairs, utility payments and temporary housing, among other services. The nonprofit also helps pay for tuberculosis testing and pre-employment health screenings for clients applying for jobs in the medical field, according to Allegra Cressman, Keystone’s social services manager and housing director.

Last year, the total donations to The Intelligencer’s 2013 Give A Christmas fund were $135,770.78.  That was down about $11,500, or 8 percent, from the previous year.   Since the charity was introduced more than a quarter of a century ago, readers have donated more than $2.5 million to help those in need enjoy the holidays.  Every dollar donated to Give A Christmas goes directly to help those less fortunate.

 Freda Savana:215-345-3061;  email: fsavana@calkins.com; Twitter:@fredasavana

 


Blunting hunger's blast at the New Britain Baptist Church Food Larder

  Posted: Friday, November 21, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 12:42 am, Fri Nov 21, 2014.

By Phil Gianficaro News columnist, The Intelligencer

Graduating to a better life via Bucks Opportunity Council

Hunger blows full gale, cutting cold and hard through the lives of the less fortunate. It does not rest or take a vacation, and there is no spring thaw. Hunger is a rotating planet; it never, ever stops.

Dottie and Byron Rimmer have felt that frigid blast of hunger knife through the front doors of the New Britain Baptist Church Food Larder they operate every Monday and Wednesday. For too many years, the married couple has watched the parade of mothers and fathers coming to them for food, some holding onto their children’s hands, many holding on for dear life. The hungry have needs. They also have the Rimmers, who’ve helped those whom good fortune has sped by like weathered mileposts on a lonely highway.

“I could cry every day watching families come here for help,” Dottie Rimmer said this week. “People think there isn’t the need in a place like Doylestown. I can tell you, hunger is here.”

Hunger barged through the food larder doors Monday afternoon. I stood with the Rimmers as families walked around the larder, moving from shelf to shelf, bags in hand, filling them with canned goods, bread, pasta, rice, peanut butter and other items equipped to blunt hunger’s cold punch.

At the food larder, clients collect their own goods instead of being handed a filled bag, a strategy that is designed to preserve pride that likely has been shaken.

“It’s hard enough for them to come here,” Dottie said. “Letting them collect the items themselves gives them a little dignity. They can shop as they would in a market. They get what they need instead of getting a prefilled bag of items, some of which they might not need.”

Many of the food larder’s shelves are filled; others yawn with emptiness. Monday is usually a busy day for donations to be delivered. But that isn’t the case on this wet, gray Monday.

“I think it’s because of the rain,” Dottie said. “I hope it’s the rain.”

The larder serves about 250 families, or 750 folks, each month. The clock ticks and bellies growl. Hunger is here, right down the street from Doylestown.

“Last week, Byron and I gave a PowerPoint presentation to the Bucks County Ski Club, and most of the people there weren’t aware there’s such a need in the Central Bucks area,” Dottie said. “They didn’t realize so many people around here need help.”

The Rimmers don’t go it alone. They have 60 volunteers. Area agencies and businesses also help. The Bucks County Opportunity Council distributes meat from Applegate Farms to area pantries. Rolling Hills Farms donates fresh produce. The Hope of the Harvest project at Delaware Valley College grows fresh produce for all county food pantries.

One in 10 Bucks County residents — and 15 percent of all children — are food insecure. That means they don’t have reliable access to enough nutritious, affordable food. According to the Hunger Nutrition Coalition of Bucks County, 97 percent of food pantry clients go without fresh fruits and vegetables if their local food pantry has none.

There is need.

Keller Williams Realtors conducted a food drive for the larder in October, collecting 2,200 bags of food. Local residents stop by the larder with bags, boxes and cases of food. That’s a lot of food. There’s a lot of hunger.

“But 80 percent of what Keller Williams collected is already gone,” Dottie Rimmer said. “Last week, we did 46 families in six hours. There’s a need here.”

Much like the 26 other food pantries that serve Bucks County, November is the food larder’s busiest time. Thanksgiving is coming and is tailgated by Christmas. Folks will come for turkeys and all the fixings. Hunger doesn’t take a holiday on holidays.

I ask Dottie about the larder’s greatest needs. She ticks off canned fruit, canned tuna, canned meals, large bottles of juice and juice boxes for children. And toiletries.

“People don’t always think soap and toothpaste when they think of donating,” she said. “There’s a need for everything.”

The hungry fill their bags on a gloomy Monday. Byron shares a story of recently meeting a former food larder client and her son in the supermarket. The woman approached him and said, “I never would have made it without the larder’s help.”

Byron hands Dottie a greeting card he received from a former food larder client, who has thankfully found her way. The front reads, “This isn’t a thank you note … ” Inside it reads, “It’s an eternally grateful, forever-in-your-debt, how-can-I-ever-repay-you note.”

The words eternally grateful are underlined. Twice.

For information on how to donate to the food larder, go to www.newbritainbaptistchurch.org/food-larder or phone 215-345-9170.

Phil Gianficaro can be reached at 215-345-3078, pgianficaro@calkins.com or @philgianficaro on Twitter.

 


Bucks County Opportunity Council graduation

 

Posted: Wednesday, October 22, 2014 10:27 pm | Updated: 6:42 am, Fri Oct 24, 2014.

By Edward Levenson Correspondent, The Intelligencer

Elise Walters and her family were almost evicted from their rented home. Tania Thomas tried to re-enter the work force but couldn’t find a job despite a degree in accounting.

These two women got their lives back on track thanks to the Economic Self-Sufficiency Program run by the Bucks County Opportunity Council, a nonprofit social services agency based in Doylestown.

They and 10 others who successfully completed the program this year were recognized Wednesday night during a graduation ceremony and dinner at the Bucks Club in Warwick. All but one of the graduates are women.

Since 1997, 275 people have gone through the program, which enables low-income individuals to gain the education, skills and employment needed to escape poverty, so they no longer receive welfare, housing subsidies and food stamps.

Walters, 29, of Warrington, became a hairdresser after high school but struggled to make ends meet years later when she began to raise a family. After her fiance (now husband) was laid off two years ago, they turned to the Opportunity Council for rental assistance to keep from being evicted.

Walters then decided to enroll in the self-sufficiency program, which is funded with private donations and tax dollars. Counselors develop a plan for each participant that addresses education, job training, child care, family health care, affordable housing, transportation and household budgeting.

“It helped me get back on my feet and showed me how to survive in this world,” said Walters, who received a scholarship to the dental assistant program at Bucks County Community College. After completing the courses and passing a certification exam, she was hired by a dentist.

Thomas, 41, of Plumstead, was going through a divorce in 2006 and needed to get a job to support her and her children. When she couldn’t find a position in accounting, she enrolled in the nursing program at BCCC with the goal of becoming a registered nurse.

After completing the first year, she had to withdraw because of a medical condition. Although she later was readmitted, she did not have the money to pay for the final year.

Through the self-sufficiency program, Thomas was awarded a scholarship, completed the nursing courses and passed her licensing exam. She now is employed as a registered nurse in a local psychiatric hospital.

She said she couldn’t have succeeded without the Opportunity Council’s guidance.

“There were many times I didn’t think I could do it,” Thomas said. “(The program) really gave me emotional support. It was my own cheerleading section.”

The other 10 graduates landed jobs as a certified nurse’s aide, a licensed practical nurse, a cook, a sales representative, an academic enrollment adviser, a social worker, an emissions technician and a medical receptionist, according to the Opportunity Council.

Their average income has gone from $14,444 at the time of enrollment to $48,440 now. Seven graduates who had been unemployed found jobs and the other five who did low-wage work found better jobs. Participants spent an average of 37 months in the program.

The Opportunity Council estimates that every $1 invested in a successful graduate saves $4 in welfare costs.

More information about the Economic Self-Sufficiency Program is available on the council’s website, www.bcoc.org, or by calling the council at 215-345-8175.


Chef Jose Garces kicks off BCOC anniversary

Posted: Sunday, August 17, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 6:56 am, Mon Aug 18, 2014.

By Freda R. Savana, Staff Writer for The Intelligencer

World famous chef Jose Garces will host an exclusive dinner at his Ottsville farm to kick-off the Bucks County Opportunity Council's 50th anniversary celebration.

The Bucks County Opportunity Council will soon begin a yearlong celebration of its 50 years of support to the area’s low-income families.

To launch the council’s half-century anniversary party, a special dinner is planned for Oct. 4 at the weekend retreat of world-renowned chef Jose Garces. The 2009 winner of the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Mid-Atlantic Awards will host the exclusive dinner party at his private Ottsville property, Luna Farm.

The evening will feature a signature meal by one of the few to hold the Iron Chef title. Garces, who owns more than a dozen restaurants in five cities, including Philadelphia, will make an appearance at the dinner and host a VIP “meet and greet” for major sponsors, said Jessie Marushak, the opportunity council’s director of development.

“Together we can make a powerful difference in the lives of our friends and neighbors in need in Bucks County,” Garces said in a prepared statement.

The all-organic, 40-acre Luna Farm is the primary source of the vegetables, fruits, eggs and honey that supply Garces’ East Coast restaurants.

Established in 1965 through President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty initiative, the private, nonprofit opportunity council has provided a wide range of services to Bucks County’s needy, explained Marushak.

For decades, at the council and other social service agencies, it was thought the best way to support the poor was to help them “cope” with their circumstances, Marushak said.

But, as times changed, so did the thinking about poverty. In the 1990s, said Marushak, the opportunity council’s board of directors realized it needed a different approach and began programs that focused attention on those “ready and willing to make a change.”

For the past 17 years, at its offices in Doylestown, Quakertown and Bristol, BCOC has provided its clients with one-on-one support to gain the skills needed to “remove them from poverty,” said Marushak.

Chef Garces at Luna Farm.

Karen Silk is just one of thousands of examples. With the help of the council and her personal commitment, the hardworking single mom became a licensed practical nurse and is now gainfully employed and supporting herself and her young son.

“I could not have done it without them,” Silk said of the opportunity council.

The 50th anniversary campaign will include the May Adopt-A-Pantry food drive, as well as Adopt-A-Family, Give-A-Christmas, Self Sufficiency graduation and the 2015 anniversary finale party, celebrating the community.

Marushak said the campaign is possible due to support from Applegate Organic and Natural Meats, The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times, Mark and Mimi Worthington, Tara Riedley Foundation, Hardwick Benfer LLC, First Federal of Bucks County, Comcast and First Savings Bank of Perkasie.

 


Volunteers Needed at Del Val's farm- Hope of the Harvest Charitable Garden 

Posted: Tuesday, June 17, 2014 12:29 pm | Updated: 6:06 am, Wed Jun 18, 2014.

By Freda R. Savana Staff Writer

Under a blazing sun, about a dozen volunteers knelt along long rows of lettuce, corn and tomatoes Tuesday morning.

“I want to be a part of this,” said Jan Geller, looking up from weeding at Delaware Valley College’s Hope of the Harvest farm along Lower State Road in Doylestown Township. Geller, who lives in Warrington, took the day off from work to lend a hand at the 3½-acre farm that grows produce for area food pantries and Philabundance.

Each week, volunteers from a variety of businesses and others support the farm, which operates in partnership with many other organizations, including the Bucks County Opportunity Council.  On Friday, Hope of the Harvest is counting on even more volunteers, as it participates in the Bucks Knocks Out Hunger campaign. The regional effort is working to alleviate hunger across the county in a number of ways.

The goal Friday is to provide 100,000 prepackaged, shelf-stable meals to a network of 27 food pantries and six senior centers. Donations will allow DelVal’s charitable garden and Rolling Harvest Food Rescue to provide 35,000 pounds of fresh, healthy food for the pantries. Remaining contributions will be donated to the pantries to obtain lean protein and other perishable items such as milk and butter, which are crucial, but rarely donated, college officials said.

To reach the goals, the college said it needs to raise about $31,000 more and find about 80 additional volunteers.  Eileen Albillar, volunteer and community connections manager with the opportunity council, said the farm project provides much-needed fruits and vegetables. “That produce does not sit in the pantries long,” she said, “the need is so great, and word travels fast.”

Scott Smith is the farm’s assistant manager. As he directed operations Tuesday, he explained how valuable the work is to both students and the community. “It expands the college experience to more than just ourselves,” he said, adding the farm has grown to a year-round operation, with students now using greenhouses for production.

To volunteer for Friday’s event, visit the Bucks Knocks Out Hunger website at www.uwbucks.org/bkohunger/. 

Hope of the Harvest was born from the college’s Hunger Forum in 2012. A group of concerned students presented the idea of dedicating one acre of the school’s land to the project. Since then, the project has tripled in size, producing 51,298 pounds of produce since it began.


Ready! Set! Cook!

Adopt-a-Pantry Cook-Off 

Student Chris Shaffer fills a plate with dishes from the Pantry Cook-Off sponsored by the Bucks County Opportunity Council and the United Way of Bucks County Friday morning at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown Township.

Posted: Wednesday, June 11, 2014 12:15 am | Updated: 7:08 am, Wed Jun 11, 2014.

 

Some of the area’s more creative cooks put their talents to the test at the Adopt-a-Pantry and Bucks Knocks Out Hunger Cook-off, held recently at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown Township. The ingredients at hand were limited to what is commonly found at county food pantries.

“It’s mac and cheese or rice and beans,” said Jessie Marushak, director of development for the Bucks County Opportunity Council, which co-sponsored the event with the United Way of Bucks County.  “Our idea was to take the packages pantries are going to get (during the BKO! Hunger campaign) and have some cooks in the community (use) a couple of these common pantry items and try to doctor up these meal packages.

“Then we’ll pass out recipe cards to the pantries so the folks will have ideas for some healthy meals for their families. The (competitors) have come up with some really great recipes.”  The winning recipe, Outreach Spicy Chicken Rice and Bean Salad, was whipped up by Lauren Pursell of Bristol Township. 

Adopt-a-Pantry’s goal during its May drive was to collect 23,000 meals — the equivalent of 15 tons of food — for needy families.  “We are really close to the goal,” said Eileen Albillar, volunteer and community connections manager for the opportunity council. “We have received 14.46 tons (as of Tuesday), which equates to 22,250 meals.”

The “canless”-food drive continues online, where monetary donations can be made at bcoc.org. “It was a great effort,” said Albillar. “More than 40 sites were collecting and we also sought fresh fruit and produce contributions this year.”

Watch the video here.


Hope of the Harvest charitable garden kicks off summer 2014 volunteer season

Hope of the Harvest logo

Those looking to make a difference for Bucks County families in need- who don’t know where their next meal may come from- are invited to volunteer for Hope of the Harvest, a charitable garden that uses Delaware Valley College land. The Kick-off will be Tuesday, May 20 at 8:15 a.m. Guests will meet at The Market on campus (2100 Lower State Road, Doylestown, Pa.) for announcements and an overview of the project. Then, weather permitting the group will head out to the garden’s main campus section to prepare the fields for the summer harvest from about 9 a.m. to noon. The main campus section of the garden is a short walk from The Market and volunteers will direct guests to the garden.

Hope of the Harvest was founded in 2012 and is a partnership between Delaware Valley College, Bucks County Opportunity Council, Philabundance and the United Way of Bucks County. In its inaugural year, it produced nearly 16, 000 pounds of fresh vegetables and fruit, which the Opportunity Council and Philabundance distributed to area pantries. In 2013, the project tripled in size to three acres, which are split between the Roth Center for Sustainable Agriculture in North Wales, Pa., and the College’s main campus in Doylestown, Pa. The additional land increased the output of lettuce, cantaloupes, sweet corn, cucumbers, squash, and tomatoes to 35,498 pounds of produce. Grants from The Land O’Lakes Foundation and The Reinvestment Fund are helping the project produce more food each year. The long-term goal is to produce 100,000 pounds of food per year by 2017.

The Opportunity Council’s FaNN, the county’s lead emergency food provider, has distributed over 1.2 million meals to Bucks County families in the past two years, and the Charitable Garden has provided a consistent and sustainable way to provide locally grown fruits and vegetables to families that are hungry.

“The charitable garden is essential to making sure families in need have access to food that is fresh and healthy,” said Eileen Albillar, volunteer and community connections manager with the Opportunity Council. “The Opportunity Council, Delaware Valley College, Philabundance, and the United Way of Bucks County are doing everything they can to bring nutritious food to local families, and the volunteers provide critical support to the mission.”

How to Help:

Join us for the kickoff on Tuesday, May 20 at The Market on Delaware Valley College’s campus at 8:15 a.m. and sign up to volunteer this season. Volunteers are needed one or two days each week from now through the end of September for weeding, staking, harvesting and packing produce. Groups are welcome. Those who can’t make the kickoff are still welcome to sign up. For more information, or to sign up your group, please contact Eileen Albillar – ealbillar@bcoc.org or 215-345-8175 x 209.


Two Campaigns, one mission: food security in Bucks County
Posted: Thursday, May 8, 2014 6:45 pm | Updated: 1:24 pm, Fri May 9, 2014.
By Christine Charnosky Correspondent
The United Way of Bucks County and the Bucks County Opportunity Council are teaming up to combat food insecurity in the county with two campaigns: Bucks Knocks Out Hunger and Adopt-A-Pantry.
One in 10 Bucks residents is food insecure, meaning they or their families are one life-altering event away from being able to put food on the table or are at risk of not having enough food to provide a healthy lifestyle for their families, said Marissa Christie, senior vice president of marketing and communication for the United Way of Bucks County.

Posted: Thursday, May 8, 2014 6:45 pm | Updated: 1:24 pm, Fri May 9, 2014.

By Christine Charnosky Correspondent

The United Way of Bucks County and the Bucks County Opportunity Council are teaming up to combat food insecurity in the county with two campaigns: Bucks Knocks Out Hunger and Adopt-A-Pantry.

One in 10 Bucks residents is food insecure, meaning they or their families are one life-altering event away from being able to put food on the table or are at risk of not having enough food to provide a healthy lifestyle for their families, said Marissa Christie, senior vice president of marketing and communication for the United Way of Bucks County.

The Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer are working with both campaigns, providing advertising space and other promotion.

Christie said United Way’s goal is to collect $50,000, which includes financing a day when volunteers pack 100,000 meals that are distributed to pantries and senior centers throughout the county. The meals will consist of dry ingredients, including fortified rice, beans, dried veggies and spices that the recipient simply puts in a pot, boils and stirs, said Christie. These meals have a long shelf life and cost only 25 cents each, she said.

“There is literally no donation that is too small, since a $5 donation pays for 20 meals,” Christie said, adding that 100 percent of the money raised for Bucks Knock Out Hunger goes directly to the pantries without fees or administrative costs deducted from the donations.

Last year, BKO Hunger’s goal was $38,000 and $50,000 was donated. The first $25,000 raised funds 100,000 meals while the next $12,000 raised provides pantries with more than 30,000 pounds of fresh produce gathered from Delaware Valley College’s Hope of the Harvest Charitable Garden and greenhouses.

United Way’s biggest donation of $5,200 last year came from a group called Kids United, she said.

Randal Henderson, of Doylestown Township, said his good friend David Hall organized Kids United, which includes a group of nearly 20 families.

“The kids stood outside of Jules Pizza and solicited donations,” said Henderson. “The owner of Jules deserves a large thanks and Dave Hall deserves a huge amount of credit.”

On Monday, Kids United will participate in Three Square Meals, which includes eating only three meals without any snacks or desserts, said Christie. “I know it is not the same thing as experiencing hunger, but it will give the kids a little sense of experiencing hunger.”

Matt Henderson, a 9-year-old third-grader at Linden Elementary School in Doylestown, who will participate in Three Square Meals on Monday, said, “I am probably going to be a little hungry, but that’s OK, I can deal with it because people do it all the time.”

This year United Way has already received a $10,000 donation from First Federal of Bucks County.

President and CEO of First Federal Jeane Coyle said that 5 percent of its net income goes to those in need in Bucks County.

“It is our priority as a financial institution to be active in the community by prioritizing secure housing, a long-term sustainable wage and food stability,” said Coyle.

Also with the goal of increasing food security, Bucks County Opportunity Council presents the second annual Adopt-A-Pantry campaign sponsored by New York Life, Delaware Valley College, The Intelligencer and the Bucks County Courier Times, said Eileen Albillar, volunteer and community connection manager for BCOC.

Last year BCOC’s goal was to collect 10 tons of food but instead collected 14 tons, so this year’s goal is 15 tons of nonperishable food.

Businesses, families, groups and individuals can donate canned fish and meats, peanut butter and other nut butters, canned items such as fruit, vegetable and beans, oatmeal, pasta and sauces along with puddings and powdered milk.

New this year, BCOC is collecting hearty produce such as apples, citrus fruits, potatoes, onions plus herbs and spices, said Albillar.

“We are also accepting can-less donations of cash,” she added. “The pantries get substantial discounts, so cash they get can literally receive more bang for the buck.”

The summer months are the lean time for food drives, said Christie, but there is a greater need since children, who may have been receiving meals at school, are home.

“I feel like I genuinely believe there should be no children going without meals in Bucks County.”

Christine Charnosky is a correspondent for Calkins Media. She can be reached through content editor Harry Yanoshak at 215-345-3051 or hyanoshak@calkins.com

Read more at: http://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com/news/local/two-campaigns-one-mission-food-security/article_19d138ba-7b01-5c8e-9b03-de7f0b385a39.html


Bucks County Food Drive Runs Through May 26th

from Philly.com, LAST UPDATED: Friday, May 2, 2014, 1:08 AM

DOYLESTOWN - The Bucks County Opportunity Council has kicked off its second annual Adopt-a-Pantry project with the aim of collecting 15 tons of food - or 23,000 meals - for families with low incomes.

The county-wide drive of non-perishable food and produce involves 30 pantries and continues through May 26.

"This is the time of year when children are home from school and not able to eat a free or reduced-price school lunch or breakfast, on which many Bucks County families depend," the Doylestown-based non-profit said in a news release.

New to this year's drive is the goal of collecting produce such as apples, citrus fruits, potatoes, onions and garlic, or herbs and spices, in addition to the usual nonperishable goods.

For more information, visit the organization's website, www.bcoc.org.

- Ben Finley

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/news/local/20140502_Bucks_food_drive_runs_through_May_26.html#0ckf2HEEG87imGEK.99


Still time to file your taxes for free through Bucks County Opportunity Council

Attention Bucks County Residents: Have you filed your taxes yet?  If your household income is less than $52,000 annually, the Opportunity Council's Buck$Back program will prepare your taxes for free, either in person or online.  Appointments are still available at three Bucks County locations: Gathering Pointe Community Center in Perkasie, St. Andrew's United Methodist Church in Warminster, and Foxwood Manor Community Center in Levittown.

To schedule a free appointment in person, call 215-345-8175 x221. To file your taxes for free online, visit www.bcoc.org and click Buck$Back Do It Yourself.

Buck$Back is a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program administered by the Opportunity Council with funding from the Bucks County Foundation in partnership with the IRS.  Since 2004, Buck$Back Volunteers have helped prepare more than 7,000 income tax returns for low-to-moderate-income taxpayers, providing a value of $12.2 million in refunds, credits and fee savings.


The Business of Life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“We always thought of ourselves as mission chasers, rather than money chasers. It’s never lost its appeal to me, never, not to this day,” says Roger Collins, who has announced his intent to retire as head of Bucks County Opportunity Council.  Photo by Chloe Elmer / Staff photographer

Gwen Shrift, feature writer at Calkins Media. Posted Sunday February 23, 2014 

Five years into retirement from AT&T, Roger Collins got a job at the Bucks County Opportunity Council, best known at the time for handing out the federal government’s surplus cheese.

Collins expected to stay three to five years, using skills honed in Fortune 500 management to “engage in the community,” he recalled.

“I had long felt and had observed, in my personal life and in society at large, that there were people who, through no fault of their own, had gotten into circumstances and they needed to get out,” he said.

Bricks of rubbery fake cheddar weren’t going to advance the lives of people who had lost their jobs, who were smart but lacked the means to get educated, who struggled to make a living wage or who faced losing their homes.

Collins launched a management revolution at the agency by measuring fiscal efficiencies, setting goals, tracking progress and using technology to improve service to clients.

He introduced tools common in the business world, such as contracts and memos of understanding, to establish what he calls a “partnership network” of more than 70 other organizations the council either funds or has working arrangements with.

“You realize, AT&T had a product. Our product is, change lives ... and kids who were in poverty and did not have enough to eat are thriving and talking about going to Fordham,” he said.

A few years after he came to work at the council, Collins was running it. Now, after 20 years, 14 of them as chief executive officer, he is leaving the organization, but not community service.

“I’m going to get back with something else, but I haven’t determined what that is yet,” he said.

While the council bails people out of crises, Collins steered the agency to foster economic self-sufficiency, helping people train for jobs that pay a living wage or guiding those facing eviction to resources they didn’t know were available.

His goal was to “use the community’s funds only when absolutely necessary, and use them when they make a difference,” he said.

To that end, he established “real-time desktop access to the client that’s sitting in front of them (agency workers). There are a few people who do try to beat our system (by attempting to get the same assistance from different offices). You can’t do that anymore. You can’t say you weren’t here last year.”

Ken Heydt, president of the Carroll Engineering Corp. of Warrington, who worked alongside Collins for many years on the county’s Workforce Investment Board, watched the former telecommunications executive in action. The results were similarly transformative.

“He had a great ability to bring business knowledge, and the accountability factor, and the setting of goals and the tracking of goals. That was very important for the Workforce Investment Board, because the WIB needed direction. They were essentially managing grants.”

Collins’ approach was “ ‘OK, this grant came in, who got it, and was it the best bang we could get for that grant dollar? Did we do the best we could do with that grant money?’ That was a very hard sell back when we started to do this,” said Heydt.

“He did a very good job of convincing people that ‘if you’re out of a job in Bucks County, we can get you this much money, this much training ... and this is how much it will cost to get you a sustainable job.’ On the (WIB) executive board, he was the driving force.”

It’s no role for a shrinking violet — and Collins isn’t.

“He is persuasive, for sure. He speaks with authority. He is not afraid of putting his thoughts out there, and standing by them to achieve a goal on the part of the people he serves,” said Connie Bastek-Karasow of the women’s social service agency Libertae, who has worked with Collins over the years.

“He’s not been tentative about making himself heard, whether it’s our group, or the (county) commissioners. He’s outspoken. He believes in his beliefs, and puts them out there.

“He’s built a strong organization. Poverty has never been a bigger issue in our lifetime. This is our Depression,” she said.

Said Heydt: “He has a great ability to convey his point to what is essentially a diverse group of people.”

Collins, who says “I break up (in tears) when a pizza shop opens around here,” is willing to admit emotional engagement.

“What (Bastek-Karasow and Heydt) must be stating is, when you work with people in need all these years, and get close to them, and have a relationship with them, you get to see our whole system, our culture, our government system differently. I’ve been with the families, I’ve seen, I’ve heard their aspirations,” said Collins.

A large part of his drive to promote self-sufficiency has gotten tougher over the past 20 years.

“It’s become more difficult to help people get to a thriving, living wage,” he said. “We now have to get (clients) to 17 bucks an hour — plus — and that’s been a challenge. It is the equivalent of somebody making $40,000 a year (and then) within four years making $140,000 a year. That’s the analog of what we’re doing with people who are coming to us at $9,000, and bringing them to $40,000.

“It’s been done. It’s one of the things that makes us unique.”

Barbara Miller, vice president of continuing education and workforce development at Bucks County Community College, began talking with Collins several years ago about education programs for careers in demand.

“He sees his role, and the role of his organization, as a catalyst of support as you move forward with your life,” she said. Through the council, Collins paid for five training slots for the college’s licensed practical nursing course. “They (council clients) were all able to secure employment, and then were able to move on from there,” said Miller.

The new nurses joined the growing ranks of opportunity council alumni, some of whom “call me Dad,” said Collins.

“To really understand the situations of people who need an opportunity to get out of the hole they’re in, the best way to do that is to develop a relationship. Nobody learns anything unless it’s through a relationship,” he said.

While other agencies call those who deal with clients “case managers,” the council calls its staff members “coaches,” which reinforces the organization’s emphasis on encouragement and discipline.

The council also helps stave off crises that can lead to homelessness or impoverishment.

About nine years ago, the agency heard from a man threatened with losing his mobile home when the owners of the development where he lived began enforcing new requirements on in-ground fuel tanks.

“I heard about it, so we installed a new in-ground tank,” said Collins. “Then we found out there were six others in the same situation. They were not going to be able to replace their tank. They could evict them from their mobile home, or they would have to find a place outside Bucks County that they could move their mobile home to.

“There was no other organization that was going to install in-ground fuel tanks for them. We did.”

Among many other tasks, the council also helped a 71-year-old widow who bathed for two years in cold water because she could not afford the gas for a water heater, a heart patient who had hit the “doughnut hole” in medical benefits, and 75 to 100 homeless families placed in housing they could sustain on their own.

“Your heart goes out to them. We go to the gas company, we get the hot water heater,” said Collins. “His (surgery patient’s) heart was going to be rejected, so we helped him.”

To those who know him, such projects are vintage Collins. One friend said she believes his “internal compass” and innate compassion brought him to the council.

“He believes things can be done if everyone respects each other, and follows the core values of the group,” said Miller. “I see him as a man of great internal strength, integrity, values ... and really believes in the human spirit. And he exhibits that with how he treats every individual who comes to the opportunity council.”

Staff members recalled that he was in the front office one day when a client entered. “Roger got right in. ‘OK, what’s your name, what’s your need? How can I help?’ It’s really neat to see that he’ll do anything from leading us to interacting with anyone on a day-to-day basis. He teaches you and he supports you, and never takes credit for anything. He just has this beautiful way about him,” said Jessie Marushak, the agency’s director of development.

“He’s a great mentor, he’s taught me so much, I can’t even tell you how much I’ve learned from him ... and the compassion,” said Sarajane Hamilton, the council’s fiscal director.

“He cares about everybody, the staff and the clients, the staff and our families. He’s an overall genuine person who cares about you personally.”

He spent years establishing a businesslike network of like-minded organizations, but Collins also forged strong friendships.

“He is emotional, and he does have a great sense of humor, and he doesn’t let a lot of people in,” said Heydt of Collins. “I was very fortunate that he let me in a little bit.”

“I find him to be a valued friend to me, and someone that I would go to in times of joy and in times of sorrow, because I think he would be there for me, as he was for all of these clients, in so many different ways,” said Miller.

At the moment, Collins is working on the transition to new leadership with Allen H. Childs, also a former corporate executive, who has been named to head the opportunity council.

Collins is still not taking the credit.

“It’s been more amazing than I dreamed, it’s been more fulfilling,” he said. “We always thought of ourselves as mission chasers, rather than money chasers. It’s never lost its appeal to me, never, not to this day.”

“There’s some organizations that see things the way they are and say why, and other organizations dream of things that never were and say, ‘Why not?’ And that somehow ignited us to be advocates for people that we serve.

“(The council is) going to go places that we never went before — that’s going to be Allen and the staff’s mission in the future. They’re going to continue to go places.”

Celebration for Roger Collins

 The Bucks County Opportunity Council plans a retirement reception for chief executive officer Roger Collins in the spring. To get on the guest list, email jmarushak@bcoc.org or call 215-345-8175, ext 204.

 ________________________________________

Gwen Shrift is a feature writer at Calkins Media. Phone: 215-949-4204. Email: gshrift@calkins.com.


After 20 years, Bucks County Opportunity Council Executive Director Announces Retirement; New CEO appointed

Roger C. Collins, who has served the Bucks County Opportunity Council since 1994 and as its Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer for fourteen years has announced his retirement.

He is a founding member of the Economic Self-Sufficiency (ES) Program that helps low-income people acquire jobs with family sustaining income so they can leave or avoid the welfare system. Collins refers to this as “Economic Development one family at a time.”

“When I came to the Opportunity Council in 1994, it was impossible to anticipate what would follow.  To work in unity with an uncommon group of many – volunteers, staff, Board, donors, private business, government, educational institutions, farms, media, and most importantly our clients to make a difference – became the experience of a lifetime.  I am both humbled and proud to have served in this very special community called Bucks County and cannot adequately express my gratitude for the compassion and generosity of many, many wonderful people.  Among the greatest joys has been the opportunity to help others during times of dire need and to see clients thrive and pass on to their children their new success in life,” said Collins.

The board of directors and staff of the Opportunity Council expressed bittersweet congratulations on Collins’ retirement and reflected on the endless contributions he has made to both the Opportunity Council and the community.

As part of a comprehensive transition plan, the board of directors conducted an exhaustive and successful search to identify a strong pool of candidates from the community at large. 

The Opportunity Council is delighted to name Allen H. Childs as Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer of the Bucks County Opportunity Council.  He previously worked in executive leadership positions, leading six different business units during a 33-year career in a Fortune 500 company in both the U.S and Canada.  His long-held goal has been to use his career experience to give back to the community.

Allen’s extensive marketing, sales, and international business experience combined with cross-functional, cross-cultural leadership were key elements of his membership on various corporate Boards of Directors, as well as Executive and Operating Committees.

Throughout his career, Allen has enjoyed working with local businesses and various national non-profits.  Allen is an active member of the Rotary Club of Doylestown, Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bucks County and his church.  In addition, Allen serves on the board of the Central Bucks YMCA, and Americans for Native Americans (ANA).

Allen graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 1981, and completed INSEAD University’s Executive Training Program in 2007.

Allen retired from corporate business in December 2012 and resides in Doylestown with his wife, Glenda.  They have turned their focus to becoming active members of the Bucks County community and have three adult children and two granddaughters.

Collins and Childs will work closely during this transition to ensure that the mission of the Opportunity Council continues to serve the Bucks County community.


Hard-working Quakertown family getting a holiday boost

Posted: Sunday, December 22, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 9:11 am, Tue Dec 24, 2013.

By Theresa Hegel Staff writer 

Donna and Steven both work, but times are tight, and it’s tough to keep their large Quakertown family clothed, fed and under the same roof.

Donna is a part-time cashier, and Steven has a warehouse job. Their children work as well, except for a 15-year-old daughter and a 22-year-old son with Down syndrome. The couple has three more sons — 16, 18 and 25 — still living at home.Caring for James is part of why the family struggles with money.

“I can never go out and get a full-time job,” Donna said. “For me, he’s first. He’s the priority. Everybody in the house makes sacrifices for our son.”

For the last dozen years or so, however, the family has had some relief at Christmas.

That’s thanks to the Bucks County Opportunity Council and The Intelligencer’s Give A Christmas fund drive, which gives an extra boost to the hard-working family in the holiday season.

Their Christmas lists this year are a poignant mix of needs and wants: One son will be getting a bed, to lift the mattress he’s been sleeping on off the floor.

Donna’s 16-year-old son just wants a safe to take ownership of his important documents and store the money from the two jobs he works. He divides his cash into an array of envelopes, each with a different label: There’s a car fund, a “visit to a college” fund, a Christmas club fund, cell phone bill fund, a work uniform fund.

“He has a lot of envelopes going,” Donna said.

James likes gifts that bring music into the home.

Donna’s 18-year-old son joined the military and will be heading out to boot camp any day, so Donna is hoping to buy him gifts like an electric shaver and other things he can take with him.

And all the kids receive things such as body wash, sneakers and clothing.

“The kids like to have what other kids wear, but they really only get that stuff at Christmastime,” Donna said.

She appreciates that Give A Christmas is available, even for families like hers, that are able to pay their bills during the year, but have little left over for frills and festivities.

“It’s just nice that there’s somebody in the community to help people, especially like us with large families,” she said. “We try really hard and do the best we can.”

So far, this year, the Bucks County Opportunity Council has provided assistance to 347 families, according to Jessie Marushak, director of development. The nonprofit is seeing a lot clients who are struggling to find work, left homeless and having to double up with friends and relatives during the holidays, she said.

The Keystone Opportunity Center out of Souderton has been able to help 38 households this year, thanks to Give A Christmas, according to Allegra Cressman, social services manager and housing director for the organization.

Keystone has been helping families pay rent, car insurance, car repairs, medical tests, day care and educational tests with the funds, she said.

“The generosity of our community uplifts and impacts the families we serve in a positive way,” Cressman said.

Theresa Hegel: 215-345-3187; email: thegel@calkins.com;

Twitter: @theresahegel.


Graduating from poverty

Posted: Thursday, October 24, 2013 5:30 am | Updated 11:36 am, Thursday, October 24, 2013

By James McGinnis, Staff Writer The Intelligencer

Karen Silk, a graduate of Bucks County Opportunity Council and her son Max Silk,9, attend the council's 17th annual Economic Self-Sufficiency Graduation held in Jamison Wednesday. Photo Credit Kim Weimer, Staff Photographer

Tears streamed down smiling faces inside the posh Bucks Club in Warwick on Wednesday as each graduate shared his or her story of living on the edge.

Mothers graduated from the sobriety house to full “soccer mom status.”

Others celebrated the long journey from homelessness to positions in health care.

Twenty men and women, most of them single moms, celebrated an escape from poverty during graduation ceremonies organized by the Bucks County Opportunity Council.

Karen Silk of Perkasie described “reinventing herself” on the three-year journey through nursing school.

Prior to entering the BCOC’s program, Silk said she was working two full-time jobs. “I wouldn’t have been able to go anywhere beyond that in life without their help,” she said of the nonprofit.

This month, Beth Hawkins of Quakertown is celebrating buying her own groceries and paying her own bills. “Going from being homeless and living in poverty, we learned that no one can make that change but you,” she said on receiving her diploma.

Marissa Schmidt,1, whose mother Beth Hawkins a graduate of Bucks County Opportunity Council sits with grandmother Cheryl Carr during the council's 17th annual Economic Self-Sufficiency Graduation held in Jamison Wednesday. Photo Credit Kim Weimer, Staff Photographer

Mary Fluck of Warminster celebrated the ability to see a doctor. “I got those health and dental insurance cards, and, I swear, I was in my kitchen dancing,” she said.

Since 1997, 263 men and women have graduated from the opportunity council’s self-sufficiency program. Participants get help paying routine bills, and, in return, agree to meet regularly with finance counselors, establish household budgets and stick to those financial plans.

Krystle Klapp of Plumstead is still working toward her dream of living in a house with a big tree that shades a front lawn with pretty pink flowers. For now, though, she has moved from a retail job at a gas station to a career as a nurse’s aide, she said.

Incomes averaged $8,952 upon enrolling in the program, organizers said. Today, those graduates are earning an average of $42,280 per year. Nine moved off unemployment. Eleven found better jobs, officials said.

Jana ffith said she began work this week as a licensed practical nurse. “I was working in landscaping and eventually I just realized that wasn’t something I could do for the long-term living with my daughter,” she said.

2004 graduate of Bucks County Opportunity Council, Andre Turner is congratuled by Bobbie Williams after speaking during the council's 17th annual Economic Self-Sufficiency Graduation held in Jamison Wednesday. Photo Credit Kim Weimer, Staff Photographer

The Bucks County Opportunity Council estimates that every $1 invested in its self-sufficiency programs translates into a $4 savings in welfare costs.

Currently about 30,715 people in Bucks County live under the federal poverty line, which equates to $23,350 for a family of four.

For more information about the Bucks County Opportunity Council, visit their web site www.bcoc.org or call 215-345-3295.

 

 

 

 

 


$aving Bucks while saving energy

Posted: Sunday, July 28, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 2:30 pm, Mon Jul 29, 2013.  By Marion Callahan Staff Writer

Rick Kintzel / Staff Photographer

Chrissy Hangey remembers sleeping with a hat and gloves on and using three blankets just to stay warm in her home during the winter months.

Her four children were also bundled up in their beds.

It would pain her to hear her kids’ teeth chattering, she said.

There were plenty of reasons: The thermostat didn’t work, so they depended on kerosene heaters that left a stench in the two-bedroom house; the insulation in the attic was falling out; and cold air seeped through cracks in the ceiling and the floors.

When she discovered a weatherization program offered by the Bucks County Opportunity Council, the quality of life in her Quakertown home changed dramatically.

Rick Kintzel / Staff Photographer

The program offers free energy audits and energy renovations to low-income residents who meet the eligibility requirements.

“Balancing the high costs of energy with other household expenses is a common stressor for families living with a low income,” said Jessie Marsushak, the council’s director of development. “That’s why the Bucks County Opportunity Council is looking for residents that are eligible to participate in its weatherization program to reduce their energy bills.”

There’s no cost for approved applicants.

Weatherization auditor Chris Kroszner came into Hangey’s home with his tools and caulking and sealed the cracks. He installed new electric heaters, so the family could get rid of the kerosene heaters, which were causing air quality problems.

Rick Kintzel / Staff Photographer

He added more insulation and drywall in the laundry room. He sprayed foam insulation in the ceiling and floor cracks in the attic and crawlspace.

Overall, the improvements reduced the amount of air flowing in from outside by 35 percent, he said.

Rick Kintzel / Staff Photographer

Hangey said it’s difficult to quantify just how much she saved on heat, but she knows she’s spending less and her family is more comfortable.

“It’s also safer for my kids to be around a regular heater,” she said. “Our bills were also very high (with space heaters) and they’ve

leveled out, so it’s a lot easier to get through the year.”

Her husband, Bill, also picked up a few tips.

“I’ve learned to look for areas around windows and doors to seal up;

Chris really pointed me in the right direction,” he said.

While it’s steamy outside, cold weather will be here before we know it, so the Bucks County Opportunity Council is seeking new applicants for the weatherization program.

To get more information on the program or to find out if your family or someone you know may be eligible, call 215-345-3309.


Home weatherization program available to low-income residents

Published on Page B8 (20)  in Bucks County Herald, July 4, 2013

The Bucks County Opportunity Council is seeking applicants for its Weatherization Program. Low-income residents struggling to keep up with energy bills may be eligible for a free home energy audit and property work or upgrades that will increase the home's efficiency and lower the owner's energy bills.

Applicants must be Bucks County residents and have a family income that must be at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level for the past 12 months, which will be verified by BCOC staff. For a rental property, a landlord's signed approval is mandatory, and a contribution may be required.

Pending approval, a trained energy auditor will contact the homeowner to schedule an appointment for a home energy audit. After a thorough inspection and review of the home, the auditor will report the recommended changes for increasing the home's efficiency, including duct sealing, weather-stripping doors, pipe and attic insulation and heater work.

Contractors will then be assigned to do the weatherization work. All materials and labor are provided and installed at no cost.

After the work is finished, the auditor will follow up to inspect the quality of the work to ensure it meets federal guidelines. For information, call 215-345-3309 or 215- 345-3302.


Adopt-A-Pantry 2013 yields 11.5 tons of food for Bucks food pantries

July 1, 2013 By Times Publishing

The Bucks County Opportunity Council announces the success of its first annual Adopt-A-Pantry food drive, with 11.5 tons of food collected to benefit local families. The Adopt-A-Pantry drive was organized to make food donations available to low-income families at the beginning of summer, when pantries shelves are the emptiest and school lunch programs cease.

Adopt-A-Pantry set a high goal for Bucks County: to collect 15,400 meals, equivalent to 10 tons of food in just two weeks.

Food collection sites were organized throughout Bucks County beginning on May 1st. Residents, businesses, worship houses and local organizations banded together to exceed this goal with donations of pastas, sauces, peanut butter and jelly, condiments, baby food and countless other household staples.

Contributions during the drive resulted in 7.3 tons of food, which was combined with $8,414 in donations from a recent donation match challenge launched by Mr. Gene Epstein of Wrightstown. The challenge added almost four tons of critically needed food items to the collection total for Adopt-A-Pantry 2013.

The donations benefitted the Opportunity Council’s Food and Nutrition Network (FaNN), a local network of 27 food pantries and will fill an ever-growing gap in making food available to those in need. The network has seen almost a 20% increase in the number of people visiting its pantries in the past three years, despite severe budget cuts.

“Food is so basic, and so is kindness,” said Roger Collins, executive director of the Opportunity Council. “We thank the community of Bucks County for remembering others.”


Getting Dirty with The Co-op and the Bucks County Opportunity Council

By Susan Vorwerk

Posted on Doylestown Food Co-op Website, June 27th 2013

Who knew that a fortuitous meeting with PA State Representative Marguerite Quinn at the Doylestown Library last month would lead to a group of Co-Op members “gettin’ down and dirty”?

Members of Doylestown Food Co-Op, along with volunteers from the BCOC (Bucks County Opportunity Council) have gotten down on our knees to weed, prune and harvest the incredible, bountiful allotment at Del Val College for Hope of the Harvest. This collaboration between BCOC, Del Val and Philabundance generated and delivered to Bucks County food pantries over 15,000 pounds of produce in its inaugural growing season. While it’s too early to know how many pounds of produce will be culled from the plot this year, we know that the pantries have already received incredibly fresh curly kale, Swiss chard and collard greens.  Talk about nutrient rich, delicious, healthy eating!!! 

Members of the Co-Op already know how important it is to eat REAL food, fresh food, local food.  We know that the best food to put in your body is WHOLE food (single ingredient, un-processed food).  So, how could we say anything but “yes” when Representative Quinn asked if the Food Co-Op could help grow and package fresh produce to be distributed to Bucks County food pantries.

One of our Co-Op couples, when asked to write about the experience of volunteering said:  “What a wonderful experience we have both had out in the rolling fields, in the spring sunshine, with the birds chirping and the friendly conversations of the other volunteers.  The Del Val college farm is a beautiful spot where even weeding becomes a meditation.”

There’s nothing that I could say that would make it sound any more inviting…  So, want to get involved?  There’s still plenty of time.   The group meets Wednesdays at DelVal Market at 8:45 and work until about 12 Noon.  For more information, and to see which dates still have availability, please contact Susan Vorwerk at Susan@Doylestown.Coop or at 215 882 3399.


Are Your Energy Bills Through the Roof?!

 

Posted: Wednesday, June 19, 2013 10:01 am | Updated: 10:17 am, Wed Jun 19, 2013.

 

www.phillyBurbs.com, Positively Bucks County

 

By Randy Levine, Community Blogger

 

Bucks County Opportunity Council is Accepting Applications for the Weatherization Program. If you have a limited income and are struggling with soaring energy bills, the Opportunity Council may be able to cut those costs and make your home more comfortable in all temperatures.

 

Summer heat is just arriving, which means Bucks County residents will be opening windows, operating power fans and turning on air conditioning units to stay cool. That’s not always easy for low-income families living in homes in need of insulation, caulking work and more efficient appliances. These families watch the rapid consumption of their oil, gas and electricity, and anxiously await the elevated energy bills.

 

Balancing the high costs of energy with other household expenses is a common stressor for families living with a low-income. That’s why the Bucks County Opportunity Council is looking for residents that are eligible to participate in its Weatherization Program to reduce their energy bills. There is no cost to approved applicants of the program.

 

Here are the eligibility requirements:

 

The program is for Bucks County residents only.

 

Your family’s income must be at or below 200% of the federal poverty level for the past 12 months, which will be verified by BCOC staff. (Click here to review the Federal Poverty Guidelines.)

 

Both homeowners and renters are eligible. For a rental property, a landlord’s signed approval is mandatory, and a contribution may be required.

 

Once approved, a trained Energy Auditor will contact you to schedule an appointment for a Home Energy Audit. After a thorough inspection and review of the home, the auditor will explain to you what changes are recommended to increase your home’s efficiency, including duct sealing, weather-stripping doors, pipe and attic insulation, heater work and possibly replacing inefficient refrigerators and lights.

 

Contractors are then assigned to do the work in your home. All materials and labor are provided and installed at no cost to you.

 

Big improvements were in store this past spring for the Bucks County home of Vivienne Fennimore after her home was weatherized, and she has noticed the difference.

 

The house was so cold, it was like the windows were open,” recalled Fennimore. “They sealed the air leaks, installed insulation in the attic and they gave me a new programmable thermostat.”

After the work is finished, the auditor will follow up to inspect the quality of the work to ensure it meets our standards and program guidelines. You should begin noticing the increased efficiency of your home and a reduction in your energy usage before you know it! Your energy bills should be lower and you will be cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter!

 

Bucks County resident Donna Shukwit saw big improvements in her home’s efficiency after insulation was installed in her home through the Weatherization program in 2012.

 

“It was wonderful after the work was completed. I don’t have to put the heater on as high now,” said Shukwit. She added, “Insulation isn’t something you pay attention to, but once you have it, thank God.”

 

To get more information, or find out if your family or someone you know may be eligible for the Opportunity Council’s Weatherization program, please call 215-345-3309 or 215-345-3302. (Please leave a message if there is no answer. They will return your call shortly!) Future funding of this program is uncertain, so call and apply today to be sure to take advantage of this opportunity.

 

Bucks County Opportunity Council, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping low-income people in Bucks County achieve and maintain economic self-sufficiency. For more information, visit www.bcoc.org

 

About the Contributor: Randy Levine recently relocated to Chalfont from Maryland to seek an opening in the public relations or marketing field. Previously, he provided strategic communications support to a leading provider of pest management services in the DC, Maryland and Northern Virginia area. At this time, Mr. Levine is a volunteer with the Bucks County Opportunity Council. He has a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communication from Towson University. Randy is also a member of the New Hope Historical Society.

 

About the Blog: Positively Bucks County is the official United Way of Bucks County blog. We focus on the news, tips, tricks and ideas from the people and organizations that make Bucks County a better place. If you are interested in becoming a contributor, contact Marissa Christie at marissac@uwbucks.org.


Local Food Pantries Seek Donations Ahead of Summer

Posted on Doylestown-Buckingham-New Britain Patch on June 11th, 2013  By Kara Seymour

Area food pantries say the summertime is particularly hard because they experience a decrease in donations and an increase in need.

Hunger doesn’t take a vacation. That’s the message area food banks are trying to get out to the public as they work to stock their shelves ahead of the summer.

“What happens in the summer is people go away but the hunger doesn’t stop,” said Melissa Mantz, a development officer with the Bucks County Housing Group, which operates three community food pantries in Penndel, Doylestown and Milford Square.

According to Mantz, BCHG’s food pantries serve close to 2,000 households and many of those residents utilize the service repeatedly.  There are many ways to help, Mantz said.

 

“You can do food drives as a group or in your neighborhood. You can donate money. It costs money to operate food pantries,” she said.

She said the pantries are in need of the following items:

  • Canned meats like spam, chicken, beef stew, chili, hash
  • Canned fruit
  • Juice
  • Baking products like flour, sugar, oils and baking soda
  • Healthy snacks
  • Condiments
  • Microwaveable dinners
  • Beans, all varieties

To make a donation to the Doylestown Food Pantry, contact Kate Bianchini at kbianchini@bchg.org or call 215-345-4311 x101.  

To make a donation to the Penndel Food Pantry, contact Denise Daniels at ddaniels@bchg.org OR call 215-750-4344 x102.

“We’re lucky we receive support. We work with great organizations like Bucks County Opportunity Council. They work really hard to bring food in for the pantries,” Mantz said.

The Bucks County Opportunity Council recently held an Adopt-A-Pantry food drive, collecting 11.5 tons of food for local families.

“The Adopt-A-Pantry drive was organized to make food donations available to low-income families at the beginning of summer, when pantries shelves are the emptiest and school lunch programs cease,” according to an announcement posted on Patch.

Food collection sites were organized throughout Bucks County starting May 1. Contributions during the drive resulted in 7.3 tons of food, which was combined with $8,414 in donations.

The donations benefitted the Opportunity Council’s Food and Nutrition Network, a local network of 27 food pantries. “Food is so basic, and so is kindness,” said Roger Collins, executive director of the Opportunity Council. “We thank the community of Bucks County for remembering others.” 

The New Britain Baptist Church also operates a food pantry. Dorothy Rimmer said the church is in need of any non-perishable food donations except canned string beans.

Rimmer said the New Britain Baptist Church Food Pantry experiences an “increase in need and a decrease in giving” during the summer because people are away and children who receive lunch at school are eating more meals at home.

Donations can be dropped off to the church, located at 22 East Butler Ave, on Monday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 to 4 p.m.


Adopt-A-Pantry 2013 Yields 11.5 Tons of Food for Bucks County Food Pantries

Posted on Warminster Patch on June 7, 2013 at 03:47 pm

Doylestown, PA – The Bucks County Opportunity Council is pleased to announce the success of its first annual Adopt-A-Pantry food drive, with 11.5 tons of food collected to benefit local families.

The Adopt-A-Pantry drive was organized to make food donations available to low-income families at the beginning of summer, when pantries shelves are the emptiest and school lunch programs cease.

In partnership with New York Life, Delaware Valley College and media partners The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times, Adopt-A-Pantry set a high goal for Bucks County: to collect 15,400 meals, equivalent to ten tons of food in just two weeks.

Food collection sites were organized throughout Bucks County beginning on May 1st. Residents, businesses, worship houses and local organizations banded together to exceed this goal with donations of pastas, sauces, peanut butter & jelly, condiments, baby food and countless other household staples. Contributions during the drive resulted in 7.3 tons of food, which was combined with $8,414 in donations from a recent donation match challenge launched by Mr. Gene Epstein or Wrightstown. The challenge added over 4 tons of critically needed food items to the collection total for Adopt-A-Pantry 2013.

The donations benefitted the Opportunity Council’s Food and Nutrition Network (FaNN), a local network of 27 food pantries. The network distributed 1,243,715 meals to more than 102,000 people last year — $2,126,504 worth of food. The donations will fill an ever-growing gap in making food available to those in need, as the network has seen almost a 20 percent increase in the number of people visiting its pantries in the past three years, despite severe budget cuts.

“Food is so basic, and so is kindness,” said Roger Collins, executive director of the Opportunity Council. “We thank the community of Bucks County for remembering others.”

The Bucks County Opportunity Council would like to acknowledge its generous Food Collection Partners for supporting Adopt-A-Pantry 2013.

Avery Dennison, Buckaroos Square & Round Dance Club, Buckingham Forest Neighborhood, Bucks County Community College, Calkins Media (Bucks County Courier Times & The Intelligencer), Calvary Church Open Hand Mission (Souderton), County of Bucks (Bucks County Courthouse), The Dance Academy, The Dollar Tree (Warrington), Doylestown United Methodist Church, Doylestown United Methodist Church (Circle of Friends), DVL, Inc., Dyventive, First Federal of Bucks County, Flowers Mill Veterinary Hospital, Fulton Bank, Girl Scout Troop #235, Girl Scout Troop #251, Girl Scout Daisy Troop #21783, John Kennedy Ford (Feasterville), The JONES Group, Love the People, National Penn Bank (10 Branches), New York Life, PA CareerLink/Bucks County Workforce Investment Board, Pennridge Central Middle School, Potential, Inc. Red Robin Restaurant (Langhorne), Sleepy Beaver Farm, Temple Judea, Wawa (14 locations).                                                                            

Bucks County Opportunity Council, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping low-income people in Bucks County achieve and sustain economic self-sufficiency. For more information, visit www.bcoc.org.


Millions Could Miss Out on Tax Credit

Posted on Doylestown-Buckingham-New Britain Patch on May 31, 2013 at 10:37 am

By Jessie Marushak

Millions of workers could overlook a federal tax credit this year simply because they don’t know it exists, according to the IRS. The credit could provide up to $5,751 extra in federal income tax refunds. Friday, January 25, is National Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Awareness day, and Bucks County Opportunity Council is spreading the word that people who work and earn less than $50,270 may be eligible for larger refunds.

The EITC makes life a little easier for working people, their families, and communities. Last year, on average, the EITC boosted refunds for eligible workers by $2,100.

"This money can make a real difference to workers struggling in this economy," said Roger Collins, executive director of the Bucks County Opportunity Council, a nonprofit that runs Buck$Back, a free tax preparation program for low-income people in Bucks County.

According to US Census Bureau 2010, approximately 77,000 households in Bucks County had an adjusted gross income below the maximum EITC income limit. Many people will qualify for the first time this year due to changes in their income or changes in their marital or parental statuses, according to the IRS. The agency estimates only four out of five eligible workers currently claim their EITC.

"Our goal is to raise it to five out of five," Collins said. "They earned it. Now they need to file to get it."

To receive the EITC, eligible workers must file a federal income tax return even if they are not required to file and specifically must claim the credit to get it.

Workers can get free help to determine their EITC eligibility and claim the credit by contacting Buck$Back, the free income tax preparation service provided by BCOC in partnership with the IRS. To see if you qualify, go to www.bcoc.org and click on the Buck$Back logo.

Buck$Back has assisted struggling families and individuals to obtain crucial refunds that can be used for debt reduction, savings, education costs, or reliable transportation. Over the past eight years, Buck$Back volunteers have assisted in preparing more than 6,000 returns for low-income taxpayers, providing a value of $10.5 million in refunds, credits, rebates and fee savings.

Bucks County Opportunity Council, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping low-income people in Bucks County achieve and maintain economic self-sufficiency. For more information, contact Jessie Marushak, Director of Development, at (215) 345-8175 ext. 204.


Bucks County adopt-a-pantry food campaign nets 11.3 tons

Posted on www.phillyBurbs.com, Courier Times, on Wednesday, May 29, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 6:21 am, Wed May 29, 2013.

By James McGinnis

First, you bought a new kitchen. Then, you stuffed the pantries.

Evan Calista, Jamison, packs up food items at Delaware Valley College for the Adopt a Pantry food drive. Art Gentile/Staff photographer

The Bucks County Opportunity Council is reporting overwhelming support for its newly launched Adopt-A-Pantry campaign this month, with area residents and businesses donating 11.3 tons of food for cash-strapped families and senior citizens.

The opportunity council reported 7.3 tons of food was gathered from 52 collection sites around the county in May. Additional cash donations of $7,914 will allow the purchase of 4 tons of groceries for food pantries in coming weeks, the agency said.

“Food is so basic, and so is kindness,” said Roger Collins, executive director of the opportunity council. “We thank the community of Bucks County for remembering others.”

The campaign was sponsored in partnership with New York Life, the Delaware Valley College and media partners The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times. The campaign was timed to help struggling families during the difficult summer months, when many school lunch programs end.

A recent report by the Coalition Against Hunger suggests a growing number of county residents are struggling to find food.

One in 17 Bucks residents receives nutritional assistance from the government, according to the latest State of Hunger: Pennsylvania report released in March. The number of locals on food stamps edged up slightly, with 37,965 Bucks residents in the program — an increase of 355 over the prior year.

Much of the collected food from this month’s Adopt-A-Pantry campaign already has been distributed to pantries in Bensalem, Bristol, Doylestown, Falls, Levittown, Middletown, Milford, New Britain, Ottsville, Penndel, Perkasie, Quakertown, Souderton, Upper Southampton and Warminster, said Jessie Marushak, director of development for the council.

The 17-week campaign should net more than 15,400 meals and comes on the heels of a similar campaign to build a new kitchen at the Bucks County Homeless Shelter in Bristol Township. Bucks County residents and business owners forked over more than $200,000 in donations for that kitchen in less than a month.


Adopt-A-Pantry nears its goal

Posted on www.phillyBurbs.com on Wednesday, May 22, 2013 11:00 am | Updated: 11:23 am, Wed May 22, 2013.

By Kimberly Flanders  

As the Adopt-A-Pantry food drive comes to a close, volunteers gathered at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown Township on Tuesday to weigh, sort and count the food donated thus far.

Elaine Weinberg (right) Hatboro, loads up Tom Arters of NE Phila. with food items as they sort out the contributions at Del Val College from the Adopt-A-Pantry food drive. Art Gentile/Staff photographer

Evan Calista, Jamison, packs up food items at Delaware Valley College for the Adopt a Pantry food drive. Art Gentile/Staff photographer

Mike DeBuono, Quakertown, and Tom Arters, NE Phila.,look for expiration dates as they sort out the contributions at Del Val College from the Adopt-A-Pantry food drive. Art Gentile/Staff photographer

Roger Collins, executive director of the Bucks County Opportunity Council, which sponsored the drive in partnership with New York Life, Delaware Valley College and media partners The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times, said the goal was to collect 10 tons of food or enough for at least 15,400 meals for local families.

As of Tuesday, Collins said the volunteers had sorted through six-and-a-half tons of food and are still counting.

“We’re thrilled with how the community has responded to the pantries that need food throughout the county. It’s a heartwarming experience,” Collins said.

“(The food is) coming in can by can, morsel by morsel, and heart by heart.”

In boxes, bags and bins, food donations were carried into DelVal’s Mougis Auditorium on Monday and Tuesday. Volunteers sorted the groceries and grouped like items together.

Jessie Marushak, also with the Opportunity Council, said donations will be accepted at DelVal through noon Wednesday. People looking to donate food can drop off donations of non-expired, non-perishable canned goods at the student center. A full list of accepted items can be found on the Opportunity Council’s website.

Marushak also noted that the matching donation challenge issued by Gene Epstein of Newtown is a few hundred dollars short of the goal. Epstein pledged to match every donation of $100 or more once a total of $2,500 has been received. She said Epstein has extended the deadline to make donations until Friday, and increments of $100 of more will still be accepted toward this challenge.

The food collected and the money raised through this spring campaign will benefit 27 Bucks County food pantries during the summer months — a time when donations are low but need is high as children are home without access to free and reduced-cost meals at school.

More than 40 sites across the county participated in collecting food, and monetary donations can still be made at the Opportunity Council’s website, bcoc.org, by clicking on the Adopt-A-Pantry link.

Checks will also be accepted, and can be made payable to the Bucks County Opportunity Council Food Program, with Adopt-A-Pantry in the memo area. Checks can be sent to the Bucks County Opportunity Council office at 100 Doyle St., Doylestown, PA 18901.

“It’s amazing, as we talk and learn more about the people that are in need, a lot of times we think the people that would utilize a food pantry as someone who’s desperate; it’s not like that at all,” said Jim Calista of New York Life, one of the food drive’s sponsors.

“Sometimes, the difference between good and bad is one life event that changes somebody’s life. We do our best to be a part of the community and align ourselves with people with similar values and goals, and we’re happy to be here.”

For more information, visit www.bcoc.org or call 215-345-8175, ext. 213. 


Only one week left in Adopt A Pantry challenge

Posted on www.phillyBurbs.com, The Intelligencer, on Sunday, May 12, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 6:06 am, Sun May 12, 2013.

By Amanda Cregan

There is only one week left to participate in the Adopt-A-Pantry project.

DVL Group, Inc. employees (from left) Pat Shandley, Jim Boyle, Joyce O’Rourke and Leigh Ann Kearney help organize food donations. The Bristol-based company hopes to collect 400 pounds of food for Adopt A Pantry. By Amanda Cregan, Staff Writer

Sponsored by Bucks County Opportunity Council in partnership with New York Life, Delaware Valley College and media partners The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times, the goal of helping our neighbors in need can’t succeed without Intelligencer and Courier Times readers.

The program, which was launched May 1 and continues through Friday, aims to collect 10 tons of food or enough for at least 15,400 meals for local families.

There’s also a chance for donors to see their monetary donations doubled.

Gene Epstein of Newtown has vowed to match every monetary donation of $100 or more up to a total of $2,500.

About $500 in monetary donations had been made.

“We still need $2,000 or the donations won’t be matched,” said Jessie Marushak, Director of Development for the Bucks County Opportunity Council.

Employees at DVL Group Inc hope to raise $1,000 and collect 400 pounds of food for Adopt-A-Pantry by the end of the week.

The Bristol-based company, which sells and services cooling, monitoring and power equipment for data centers, has been committed to aiding local food drives.

“We are passionate about Bucks County, and it always makes sense because all the food is going to people in the Bucks County area,” said Patricia Martin, human resources manager for the DVL Group.

The food collected and the money raised through this spring campaign will benefit 27 Bucks County food pantries during the summer months — a time when donations are low but need is high as children are home without access to free and reduced meals at school.

Adopt-A-Pantry donations will help a growing number of hungry families in our area, said Briana McGonagle, food program manager for Bucks County Opportunity Council.

“The need is definitely growing, and food pantries are reporting that they are seeing more new faces every week,” she said.

There are now 42 sites across the county that are collecting food donations. Monetary donations can be made at the Opportunity Council’s website, bcoc.org and clicking on the Adopt-A-Pantry link. The site also includes a current list of all the food drop-off sites.

Checks will also be accepted, and can be made payable to the Bucks County Opportunity Council Food Program, with Adopt-A-Pantry in the memo area. Checks can be sent to the Bucks County Opportunity Council office at 100 Doyle St., Doylestown, PA 18901.

For more information, visit www.bcoc.org or call 215-345-8175, ext. 213.


Adopt-A-Pantry donation challenge

Posted on www.phillyBurbs.com on Tuesday, May 7, 2013 11:30 am | Updated: 3:03 pm, Tue May 7, 2013.

A Bucks County man has issued a challenge that will benefit the Adopt-A-Pantry project: For every monetary donation of $100 or more, he will match up to a total of $2,500.

Lisa McCole of Doylestown, looks through some non-food items she can use at the New Britain Food Larder located next to the New Britain Baptist Church. The Bucks County Opportunity Council is running an Adopt-A-Pantry campaign which kicked off May 1 and runs through May 17. Art Gentile/Staff photographer

Gene Epstein of Newtown said he saw that the project, which kicked off May 1 and continues through May 17, initially sought the donation of food for area pantries, and he wanted to help out with cash donations as well.

Sponsored by Bucks County Opportunity Council in partnership with New York Life, Delaware Valley College and media partners, The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times, the program aims to collect 10 tons of food or enough for at least 15,400 meals for local families.

Roger Collins, executive director of the Bucks County Opportunity Council, said the response to the project so far has been “very heart-warming and it continues to grow.”

“Gene Epstein’s exciting offer to match donations will help us reach people with 2,500 more meals. We are truly thankful for his involvement,” Collins said.

The food collected and money raised through this spring campaign will benefit 27 Bucks County food pantries during the summer months — a time when donations are low but need is high as children are home without access to free and reduced meals at school.

Jessie Marushak, director of development for the Bucks County Opportunity Council, said the campaign has been going extremely well, and certain food collection sites, like a branch of Fulton Bank, have already collected eight boxes of food.

“We now have 32 food collection sites, and today we just picked up Bucks County Community College (as a food collection site.)”

As far as monetary donations, Marushak said they can be made right on the Opportunity Council’s website, bcoc.org.

On the main page of the website, there is a link to the Adopt-A-Pantry page. Once there, Marushak said visitors can scroll down to the bottom until they find a form in an area that says, “Can-Less Food Drive.” Monetary donations can be made by filling out that form.

Checks will also be accepted, and can be made payable to the Bucks County Opportunity Council Food Program, with Adopt-A-Pantry in the memo area.

Checks can be sent to the Bucks County Opportunity Council office at 100 Doyle St., Doylestown, PA 18901.

For more information, visit www.bcoc.org or call 215-345-8175, ext. 213.


Tax time tips

Posted on www.phillyBurbs.com  on Sunday, March 24, 2013 7:00 am | Updated: 1:47 pm, Monday Mar 25, 2013.

By Marion Callahan

Jim Spiegle, a volunteer tax-preparer, looks over notes while getting ready to prepare taxes for individuals at St. Andrews United Methodist Church. The program offers free tax filing for those who make less than $57,000 a year. Rick Kintzel, Staff Photographer

Each year, when I file my taxes, I have this inkling I could do more, save more. We all have to pay our fair share, but the lingering question remains: Am I paying too much? For this week’s $aving Bucks, I sought advice from tax professionals to find out what I could be overlooking. My question was simple and to the point: What do most people overlook come tax time that could cost them money?

In the process of answering that question, I discovered a Bucks County Opportunity Council savings programs called Buck$Back that prepares taxes — for free — for county residents/households who make less than $57,000 a year. Just go to www.bcoc.org and click on “Free Taxes.”

One recent day, I headed to one of the program's sites, where the council’s volunteer tax preparers were more than willing to share their expertise. Here are a few of their suggestions.

Don’t miss adjustments: Certain expenses can be subtracted from your gross income to directly reduce the amount of money on which you'll be taxed.

Student loan interest: If you paid interest on a student loan for yourself or a child that you claim as a dependent, you may be able to subtract that interest from your total income.

Don’t forget deductions: These can be claimed only if you itemize your tax return using Schedule A.

Medical Expenses: If you meet the income/expense threshold, the IRS allows a wide variety of medical deductions, including include payments for:

  • Doctors, dentists, surgeons, chiropractors, psychiatrists, psychologists and nontraditional medical practitioners;
  • Hospitals and nursing homes; acupuncture; medical, dental, vision, and long-term care insurance premiums (but not regular health insurance premiums);
  • Inpatient drug and alcohol treatment, smoking-cessation and weight-loss programs;
  • Prescription medicine;
  • Prescription medical equipment, including false teeth, eyeglasses or contact lenses, hearing aids, crutches, wheelchairs and guide dogs;
  • Transportation for medical care at 24 cents per mile, plus tolls and parking fees, ambulance transportation, or taxi, bus or train fare to get to a medical appointment.

State taxes: Income tax is deductible; sales tax can be deductible, depending in your income and the amount of the sales tax.

Credits, including:

  • Child tax credit of $1,000 for each dependent minor under 17;
  • Child care credit for part of the cost of day care for dependent children under 13 while you work;
  • Earned Income Tax credit, which depends on filing status, the age of household members, earnings, and number of children. A couple with three or more children may receive a tax credit up to $5,900.
  • Savers credits, which are subject to some income limitations. Taxpayers may be able to get a credit for contributions to retirement savings plans even if they are auto-enrolled in these plans through their employers.

Bucks – The Happening List

Published on March 13th, 2013

Bucks Charity

 

 

Bucks County Opportunity Council (Bristol, Doylestown, Quakertown)

 

 

Bucks County Housing Group (Doylestown, Newtown)

Family Service Association of Bucks County (Langhorne)

Gilda’s Club Delaware Valley (Warminster)

Last Chance Ranch (Quakertown)


Free Tax Filing Appointments Available at Upper Bucks YMCA

Posted on Upper Dublin Patch on March 1, 2013 at 03:52 pm

By Jessie Marushak

 

Quakertown, PA - Free tax filing appointments are available at the Upper Bucks YMCA. If your household income was less than $50,000 last year, you may be eligible to file your taxes for free through Buck$Back, a free income tax filing program run by the Bucks County Opportunity Council.

To make an appointment, stop by the Upper Bucks YMCA located at 401 Fairview Avenue in Quakertown on Tuesdays from 4pm-8pm or Saturdays from 9am-2pm. You can also call 215-345-8175 x 221 to schedule an appointment by telephone.

Buck$Back has assisted struggling families and individuals to obtain crucial refunds that can be used for debt reduction, savings, education costs, or reliable transportation. Over the past eight years, Buck$Back volunteers have assisted in preparing more than 6,000 returns for low-income taxpayers, providing a value of $10.5 million in refunds, credits, rebates and fee savings. For more information about Buck$Back go to www.bcoc.org.

Bucks County Opportunity Council, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping low-income people in Bucks County achieve and sustain economic self-sufficiency. For more information, visit www.bcoc.org.


Wegmans Donates nearly $25,000 to Opportunity Council Food Program

Posted on Doylestown-Buckingham-New Britain Patch on February 12, 2013 at 08:32 pm

By Jessie Marushak

Warrington, PA - On January 21, 2013, Wegmans donated $24,759 to Bucks County Opportunity Council's Food and Nutrition Network (FaNN) through their Check out Hunger and Care about Hunger Programs. From October to December 2012, customers donated $1, $2 $3, $5 or any other amount at checkout with 100% of the proceeds going to the Opportunity Council.

The money will be given to twenty-one pantries in the Bucks County Food and Nutrition Network, who serve those in need. The pantries will use this money to purchase food for low income families.

"The need for food assistance is rising, and the resources to supply food are diminishing. We are trying to serve more people with fewer funds. A donation is of this magnitude will help us to fill the ever-increasing gaps" explains Opportunity Council Food Program Manager, Briana McGonagle.

"Monetary donations are so important because it allows us to give the puchasing power to the food pantries to buy exactly what they need" says McGonagle.

The Opportunity Council is grateful to Wegmans for their continued support to help end hunger in our community.

Forty-five Wegmans stores in New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, Eastern Pennsylvania, and the Greater Rochester region of New York, took part in the campaigns and raised $1.38 million for their respective local food banks.

Bucks County Opportunity Council, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping low-income people in Bucks County achieve and sustain economic self-sufficiency. For more information, visit www.bcoc.org.


Opportunity Council urges taxpayers not to leave money behind

Posted on www.phillyBurbs.com on Thursday, January 24, 2013 9:10 am | Updated: 6:30 pm, Thu Jan 24, 2013.

By Crissa Shoemaker DeBree Staff writer

The Bucks County Opportunity Council is reminding taxpayers that they might qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, which can add thousands to your tax refund.

Income caps to claim the tax credit range from $13,980 for a single taxpayer with no children to $50,270 for a married couple with three or more children. Last year, the credit on average added an additional $2,100 to taxpayer refunds, the opportunity council said. This year, a family can earn a credit of up to $5,891.

About 77,000 Bucks County households had income below the limits in 2010, but nationwide, one in five eligible taxpayers don't claim it, the council said. Taxpayers who don't earn enough to file a federal income tax return can still claim the credit.

The Bucks County Opportunity Council can help low-income taxpayers file for the credit through Buck$Back, a free, volunteer tax preparation program. Visit www.bcoc.org to sign up. To learn if you qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, visit irs.gov and search for the keyword "EITC."


Buck$Back volunteers navigate low-income families through tax season

Page C12 (32) Bucks County Herald January 24, 2013

By Regina Young

If the blustery, winter winds – their germ-spreading powers aside – have taught us anything about the 14 long weeks that follow the jolly holiday season, it’s this: The tax season, assuredly, isn’t the most wonderful time of the year.

But for one retired IRS employee, it might as well be.

“I have always enjoyed it,” Warrington resident Linda Price chuckled. “People laugh because I enjoy taxes … but I do.”

A longtime federal government employee, Price spent 17 of her 36 professional years as a data processing manager for the IRS. After closing the books on her career, Price decided to put her experience, and penchant for numbers, to good use.

“I’m a numbers person. It’s not that I love money, but I love numbers and I’ve always been that way,” she said. “I had done a lot since I retired, but I just wanted to find my niche as far as something I could for other people that a lot of people didn’t necessarily think they could do for themselves.”

Four years ago, Price joined the Bucks County Opportunity Council’s Buck$Back program, which provides free tax preparation assistance to low- and moderate income individuals and families. As a volunteer, she strives to make life a little easier for people swimming against the financial current.

“Helping people who are trying so hard to help themselves is the biggest part of what we [volunteers] do,” said Price, who along with her husband, has been a financial supporter of the nonprofit agency for some time. “It’s kind of a kinky thing to do for others because it’s not like working in a food bank, but it is a definite need.”

A partnership between the nonprofit and the IRS, Buck$Back assists taxpayers who earn less than $50,000 per year. According to the Bucks County Opportunity Council web site, Buck$Back volunteers have assisted in preparing more than 6,000 returns for low-income taxpayers, providing a total of $10.5 million in refunds, credits, rebates and fee savings over the past eight years.

Clients include senior citizens, families and individuals with disabilities.

Volunteers can be retired and practicing accountants, college students or even individuals with no previous experience. Free tax assistance training, which volunteers must complete every year, is provided by the IRS and is offered on three certification levels: basic, intermediate and advanced.

Volunteers can serve in other capacities as well, from greeting clients to performing tasks like copying forms and documents.

Tax assistance appointments are conducted at the following sites:

Foxwood Manor, Levittown; Grundy Library, Bristol; St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church, Warminster; Bucks County Opportunity Council, Doylestown; and Upper Bucks YMCA, Quakertown.

At the moment, there are 70 Buck$Back volunteers, including 20-year-old Delaware Valley College accounting student Jordan Walls.

“It’s a scary thing for most people, especially lower income individuals and families who aren’t really sure what they’re dealing with,” Walls said of the tax-filing process. “To be able to help them – it is amazing.”

Walls, a third-year student who’s set to graduate in December, is a member of the college’s business club and began volunteering with the Buck$Back program last year.

“A lot of us have had internships and other things in the accounting field where we’ve worked with taxes before, but when you have those kind of things, you don’t necessarily get that client interaction,” she said. “With volunteering, you get to have hands-on experience with working with the clients, and that’s really rewarding.”

Not surprisingly, the congressional battle over the “fiscal cliff” has thrown a wrench into this year’s tax season. The last-minute deal delayed the production of necessary forms and documents and as a result, the IRS won’t begin processing individual income tax returns until Jan. 30.

When tax season finally gets under way, it’ll be crunch time for tax preparers across the country, including Buck$Back volunteers.

“Every year it’s a new adventure, but this year it’s got a particular twist to it,” Price said.

“It will be a challenge,” Walls said, but volunteers are up to the task. “All of our volunteers are very patient. Everyone knows how to talk to clients in a way that will help them understand what they’re going through,” she said.

That attentiveness, Walls said, is what makes the Buck$Buck program special.

“They’re not just being handed a folder. We sit down with them and we go through it, and when they actually understand what they’re getting and their position, it’s very satisfying,” she said.

“There’s just so much community involvement and for students to be involved in that – that in itself is a great feeling,” Walls added.

From other volunteers to clients, “You meet so many wonderful people,” Price said.

Assisting even just one financially-strapped person through the tax filing process, she added, leaves her smiling for days.

“You think, wow, it’s really great. I was really able to make that person’s day,” Price said. “I encourage anyone who maybe doesn’t fit in a normal volunteer niche to consider something like this.”

“It’s really worth it,” she said. “It’s really worth it.”

For information on volunteering, call 215-345-8175 x209. For tax assistance appointments, call 215-345-8175 x221. 

Don’t overlook EITC

Millions of workers could overlook a federal tax credit this year, simply because they don’t know it exists, according to the IRS.

The credit could provide up to $5,751 extra in federal income tax refunds.

Friday, Jan. 25, is National Earned Income Tax Credit Awareness day, and the Bucks County Opportunity Council is spreading the word that people who work and earn less than $50,270 may be eligible for larger refunds.

Workers can get free help to determine their EITC eligibility and claim the credit by contacting Buck$Back. To see if you qualify, visit bcoc.org and click on the Buck$Back logo.


2012 sets new high record for the Give A Christmas fund

Posted at www.phillyBurbs.com, The Intelligencer, on January 6, 2013 11:00 am | Updated: 11:14 am, Tue Jan 8, 2013.

by Amy Gianficaro  

The generosity of The Intelligencer’s readers has reached a new record high.

Another $11,000 in donations to the community’s Give A Christmas fund were received this past week — an amount that brings the 2012 total to $146,677, a record year for the 25th annual holiday fund.

“Setting a new record for donations, especially in these uncertain economic times, is a bold statement of the great generosity of the people in this area,’’ said Mike Jameson, president and general manager of Greater Philadelphia Media.

Donations large and small began to come in the mail and online in the middle of November and have not stopped. The money collected was distributed in Bucks and Montgomery counties to families and individuals in need through two local social service agencies — the Bucks County Opportunity Council in Doylestown and Keystone Opportunity Center in Souderton.

Roger Collins, executive director of the Bucks County Opportunity Council called the season’s results “truly inspirational.”

“We are inspired by the stories of hope from those in need and their expression of thanks; and by the generosity of donors who more likely than not dedicated their gift to honor people in their memories or their current lives. Combined it created a special awe about the wonderfulness of the human spirit,” said Collins.

The fund providing heating, food, car, housing and medical assistance, as well as gifts for children and others at the holidays. Hundreds of clients were helped.

“The Bucks County community is truly blessed by the generosity of friends and neighbors,” said Patricia S. Walker, executive editor. “There is so much need and the true spirit of a community shines when that need is recognized and tackled. Many, many people will benefit from the Give A Christmas funds collected. You have made our county a better place to be and please let me be one of many to thank you all personally.”

Since the fund began in 1988, nearly $2.4 million has been donated to help those in need in our community.

“The whole fabric of our community truly comes together during Give A Christmas,” said Collins. “It makes us proud of our community and proud to serve those in need. On behalf of all we serve we send our thanks and appreciation. We know the impact is generational and long-lasting; more than one has let us know that once upon a time they received help from Give A Christmas and now they are giving back.”

There is still time to give to the 2012 fund. Contributions will be collected as long as donors are motivated to give.

This week’s total $11,081

Total to date $146,677