As 21 News dives into our 17th Annual Feed Our Valley campaign supporting Second Harvest Food Bank, we're working to highlight the extraordinary people who lend a helping hand to those in need.

21 News Anchor Erin Simonek spent some time with the people behind East Palestine's Food Drive during what they say is their busiest time of year.

As 1-in-6 adults and 1-in-5 children are at risk of hunger here in our valley, communities like East Palestine know what it's like to ask for help when times are tough. As they've seen an uptick in need this past year, the people behind the Caring Hands Food Distribution explain it's a crucial part of the village.

"I love the food pantry," explained volunteer Wendy Boyles. "You get more out of it than you put into it."

Since January, East Palestine has continued to see more cars coming through the Caring Hands Food Pantry.

"The numbers get higher and higher," Boyles added. "We prepare for more and more people every month right now."

A handful of volunteers work out of First Church of Christ to prep for food drives that take place once a month. Althea Wolfe and Wendy Boyles are the minds behind the effort that feeds over 200 families every month with the help of 50 volunteers. The Caring Hands Food Pantry has been running 15 years strong, feeding thousands of families. 

"It's across the board," explained Althea Wolfe. "We talk to other pantries in Salem and East Liverpool, and everybody's numbers are just way up."

The Caring Hands Food Pantry sees recipients come in as far from Youngstown, East Liverpool, and even Western Pennsylvania. The food pantry has a variety of volunteers ranging in age from 13 to over 80 years old.

"Most of the people that work for the food pantry are volunteers from the church," explained Bob Helbeck, Senior Minister at Caring Hands Food Pantry. "Although we also have people from the community. We have businesses in the community that will collect food after business hours and donate money. We have people in the community that really help with it, too."

The food bank does much more than feed the community. Second Harvest Food Bank, Caring Hands Food Pantry, and Carrier Corporations were behind the distribution of air purifiers directly after the train derailment back on February 3 which changed the village for the foreseeable future. The food bank saw a generous boost in monetary donations after the accident as well.

Carrier Corporations funded the air purifiers totaling $152,000.

"This is an example of people helping people," said Mike Iberis, Executive Director of Second Harvest. "The people of East Palestine have gone through a disastrous situation. The Second Harvest Food Bank was on the ground beginning February 3 and we're going to stay there." 

"You get to know the people, what's going on in their lives, and how much they depend on the help," Wolfe added.

"With inflation in this country, people's grocery dollars are not going as far as they used to," Boyles added. "And so we can be of help in that way."

The food bank can sometimes go through 7,500 pounds of food in one month with November being the busiest of them all.

"We always just figured it was because of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, I don't know," Boyles added. "December usually falls a little bit."

"It's a basic need for survival," explained Brady Brubaker, a sophomore at East Palestine High School who started volunteering during the pandemic. "I feel like I should help out as much as I can to make sure people get what they need."

Brubaker said he doesn't see too many children his age devoting their time to volunteering but he has been able to recruit some friends and family to help out. 

Minister Helbeck sees the effort and passion that goes into the food drive.

"Maybe it's not the train derailment, maybe it's just food prices going up," Helbeck explained. "We've had a big increase in the number of people coming in."

Head over to the First Church of Christ's website to donate. The group is one of the 163 direct partners of Second Harvest Food Bank, working to lend a caring hand this holiday season.

21 News' Feed Our Valley campaign runs until December 17. Our news team, along with our friends at Second Harvest Food Bank is asking the community to donate non-perishable food items to any Sparkle Market. 

The most-needed food items include cereal, canned vegetables, canned soup, canned fruit, dry pasta, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and tuna.

Monetary donations stretch when given to the food bank. For every $1 donated, the food bank distributes $10 worth of food which is equal to 5 meals. Your efforts truly make a difference. In 2022, Second Harvest provided over 9.5 million meals locally.

Visit Second Harvest Food Bank's website to give back.