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Image: Photo Courtesy of United Way of Berks County

United Way's 'Big Cheese 5' event helps combat hunger in Berks County

June 14-15 event is the largest of its kind in the Northeastern U.S.

WYOMISSING, Pa. — Scores of United Way volunteers descended on Penn State Berks on June 14 and 15 to participate in the United Way's "Big Cheese 5" event.

More than 1,000 volunteers packaged 500,000 meals (mac-and-cheese and rice and beans) over the two days. The event is noted as the largest food-packing event by any organization in the Northeastern United States, as well as the largest event of its type organized by a United Way, according to the Outreach Program, a national nonprofit that organizes food-packing events with local organizations across the country.

The 500,000 meals assembled during the two-day event will help fight hunger within the community. The packaged meals will be provided to Helping Harvest (formerly the Greater Berks Food Bank), and a supply will also be provided to the Reading School District. Both organizations will store and distribute the meals to those in need throughout the year.

“We know in Berks County one in five people face food insecurity, or are at risk. We're grateful for all of the volunteers' hard work; we know their efforts will make a significant difference in the lives of children and families during the coming months,” said Peg Bianca, executive director of Helping Harvest.

The 1,000-plus volunteers include families, corporate teams and individuals, along with members of Emerging Leaders United, which consists of individuals ages 21-45 who want to become more involved with community activities and United Way. More than 65 local organizations, including businesses, nonprofits and others, were represented. Friday night volunteers packaged the mac-and-cheese meals, with the rice-and-bean meals packaged on Saturday. Each meal package is nutritionally balanced to meet recommended dietary guidelines and includes all the dry ingredients to make approximately six servings. Each meal costs 25 cents; costs were supported through United Way's community impact budget directed towards meeting basic needs.

"We are amazed and inspired by the volunteers' commitment. Since this event first began, volunteers have demonstrated such a strong level of enthusiasm and desire to be a part of Big Cheese, and this year is no exception. Our community is filled with so many caring people wanting to make a difference," shared Tammy White, president of United Way of Berks County.

"Big Cheese 5" is one of many volunteer projects occurring the weekend of June 15 as part of the national Day of Action, when communities around the world come together and take action to address a community challenge.

The community can follow the day's activities by following United Way of Berks County on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at #uwberks and #BigCheeseBerks.