Local restaurants to give back to community, raise money for food pantries with pizza fundraiser

CHAMBERSBURG – Falafel Shack and GearHouse Brewing Company are combining their culinary forces to raise money and awareness for South Central Community Action Program. The Pizza Pop Up event will be held on Wednesday, July 31 from 5-9 p.m. at the GearHouse (253 Grant St.), and all of the money raised will help extend SCCAP’s food-buying power, which will help it keep local food pantries stocked.

Falafel Shack will be cooking up wood-fired, brick-oven pizzas on location using their mobile pizza oven, which can also be seen in action on Saturday mornings at the North Square Farmers Market.

The two restaurants will collaborate on a classic margarita pizza, and each restaurant will also contribute its own specialty pizza.

The event is sponsored in part by Caputo Brothers Creamery in Spring Grove who will be donating all of the mozzarella and ricotta cheese for the pizzas. Attendees can also watch cheese stretching demonstrations, a process by which the fresh curds are turned into cheese that is suitable for pizzas.

The idea for the Pizza Pop Up event originated with GearHouse chef Josh Fidler, who in turn credits GearHouse sous chef Michael Hobbs with the initial inspiration to use their resources to help the community.

“Community engagement is very important,” said Fidler. “Especially in a business like ours, in the service industries. At the end of the day, we’re here to serve not only our customers, but our community.”

Fidler then reached out to Falafel Shack head chef and co-owner Amer Chaudhry about a potential collaboration. The two kitchens were already friendly and often shared food and supplies with each other.

“I like the camaraderie between the restaurants and the community,” said Fidler. “We’re not so much in competition with each other because if you have a bunch of great places, it just draws many more people to the area. It lifts the whole scene up.”

Fidler wanted all of the proceeds to go to a local charity organization, and Chaudhry suggested that they donate the money to SCCAP.

“It made sense to work with SCCAP and their food pantry, because, as chefs, as restaurateurs, it’s always important to feed people – and that includes everyone in the community,” said Fidler.

Chaudhry saw the event as both a way to help food-insecure people living in Franklin County and a show of gratitude.

“We are here because of our community,” said Chaudhry. “The support that the community has given me – I’m so thankful and grateful for that.”

He added: “My theory is the more I have, the more I want to give back to the community. The reason we are here is because of the continuous support of the community.”

Before Falafel Shack opened its brick-and-mortar location at 9 N. Main St., they started out with a food truck that used to set up at the GearHouse, so the two restaurants already had a solid relationship. Additionally, Falafel Shack had previously hosted dinner for SCCAP’s Support Circles program.

When Fidler and Chaudhry pitched the Pizza Pop Up idea to Jennifer Miller, SCCAP’s emergency services and food pantry coordinator for Franklin County, she was immediately receptive to the idea.

“The number of people that we serve keeps increasing, but dollars pretty much stay the same or decrease, so these donations make a huge difference for families.”

Megan Shreve, CEO, SCCAP

SCCAP currently serves approximately 5,000 individuals at the six food pantries that the organization coordinates and assists in Franklin County, including the one in their own building at 533 S. Main St.

While the “partner pantries” located throughout the county are not officially affiliated with SCCAP – and they are staffed almost universally with volunteers – SCCAP administers the State Food Purchase Program for Franklin County, which helps those pantries when it comes to having money to buy food.

“We have a number of churches and organizations here in Chambersburg that do food drives for us,” she said.

“Volunteering their time to help down here and run food drives – those are the biggest helps that we can use that the food pantry,” said Miller.

The goal is to collect and distribute food, so shelf-stable foods are always appreciated as donations. However, SCCAP also welcomes donations of fresh fruits and vegetables from the gardens of local residents.

“There are a lot of people who have a nice, big family garden and sometimes tomatoes can get out of hand,” said Miller. “We’ve had a number of Chambersburg residents who will bring down zucchini that they just can’t use up.”

“It made sense to work with SCCAP and their food pantry, because, as chefs, as restaurateurs, it’s always important to feed people – and that includes everyone in the community.”

Josh Fidler, executive chef, GearHouse

Megan Shreve, CEO of SCCAP, explained that the state provides about $8 per family per month, and the food pantries typically distribute enough food for three to four days per month.

“It certainly doesn’t meet a family’s needs,” she said, “but it fills a gap for them.”

The remainder is covered by donations of food, time and money, which is where community-driven events like Pizza Pop Up come in.

“The money raised will be used to purchase food,” said Shreve. “When you only have $8 per family per month, having any additional funding to buy food is really important so we can stretch those food budgets and serve more people.”

So why not simply donate the pizzas or the ingredients to SCCAP? What is the advantage of raising – and then donating – money to an organization like SCCAP?

Shreve explained that the answer has to do with how the organization procures its food items. SCCAP can stretch the already limited resources much farther than a standard shopper in a standard grocery story.

“If you were trying to decide should I donate food or should I donate money, money is best because we can typically buy a case of food items from the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank for what someone could buy a couple of cans for.”

She added: “Our money goes much further there because most of their food is either received at a huge discount or donated, so we’re only paying shipping costs.”

Put another way: a person can go to a store and spend $4 on a box of cereal, or they can give the $4 to SCCAP so they can use it to buy an entire case of the same cereal.

“My theory is the more I have, the more I want to give back to the community. The reason we are here is because of the continuous support of the community.”

Amer Chaudhry, head chef and co-owner, Falafel Shack

Coordinating local food pantries is a large undertaking, but it is only a small part of SCCAP’s portfolio of programs that serve about 32,000 people in Adams, Franklin and some surrounding counties.

Said Shreve: “We have a wide variety of programs. We have food pantries, homeless shelters, we run a Gleaning Initiative, which is where we go out after the harvest and bring in produce that’s left over. Last year we brought in almost 300,000 pounds of produce. We do a weatherization program. A WIC program, which is the women, infants and children’s program that does health screenings and provides healthy food. We do childcare subsidies, a work-ready program, which helps folks transition from being on cash assistance to employment. We run a support circles program that helps people move completely out of poverty. A pretty wide range of programming and anti-poverty work. We also do a coordinated re-entry coalition in Franklin County, which helps people transition from prison successfully back into society.”

“The number of people that we serve keeps increasing,” she said, “but dollars pretty much stay the same or decrease, so these donations make a huge difference for families.”

In addition to financial contributions, events like Pizza Pop Up also generate awareness to unseen problems in the community.

As Miller explained:

“There are people in our community that don’t know about the work we do here at SCCAP and the needs of our community. It’s still very hush-hush. It’s one of those silent things that some people don’t want to see or talk about. The more people we can get down [to the event], the more we can share with them that we do have those food deficiencies in our community.”

[Main Image Caption: Amer Chaudhry positions a pizza within Falafel Shack’s mobile wood-fired brick oven at a farmers market on Saturday, July 27.]

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