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Parkland C.A.R.E.S. Opens Pantry to Community
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OREFIELD, Pa. (WLVT) - Three times a month, more than a dozen families anxiously wait for the doors to open.

The Parkland C.A.R.E.S. (Community Aid Reaching Every Student) food pantry on 5074 Kernsville Road opened in June, taking over a former dentist's office.

The cavity in this community is food insecurity.

"No one's immune from it," said board member Amy Barnett, "and I don't think any community is immune from it."

"Kids can be affected, whether through cognitive and learning problems, as well as mental health issues, depression, anxiety, behavioral issues in the classroom," added fellow board member Candace Young.

The inspiration for the pantry came from the kindness of Gary Smith, a bus driver with the Parkland School District.

"When he passed away from cancer in 2016, he was such a huge contributor to his community that we wanted to give back in a way just as he had," said executive director Katrina Sundstrom.

One in four students in the district - which covers North Whitehall Township, South Whitehall Township and Upper Macungie Township - gets a free or reduced lunch.

"Any of us might only be one or two major economic crises away from being in a state of food insecurity," Young said.

"We know that we will not end hunger," Sundstrom said, "but we will diligently fight it as long as the need exists within the Parkland community."

As a choice pantry, families select what they want, based on household size and need -- and that includes more than just food. A Community C.A.R.E.S. closet offers toiletries, hygiene products, diapers and other essentials.

Board members say the pantry serves more than just the school district.

"Even though originally the mission came for serving students in the Parkland community, we're also serving other households of people caring for elderly parents, or seniors who just don't have an income," Young explained.

No one gets turned away, Sundstrom said. Those who come register as a pantry shopper for free. They're allowed to shop twice a month.

"When the families enter the door, we want them to feel like this is home," Sundstrom said, adding the pantry now serves about 60 households.

"I think more and more families are very close to the on the brink of potentially needing services like this," Barnett said.

The goal is to expand the pantry in a few years, but board members say the hope is other communities will see what Parkland is doing for its own residents.

"It's great that we can serve anybody who really has the courage to walk through the door and just say that they need a little bit of help," Young said.

The pantry is open every second Wednesday, third Saturday and fourth Wednesday. For hours and other information about Parkland C.A.R.E.S., click HERE.