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UW Blog

5 Years of The Big Cheese: Big Fun and Big Impact

Posted by: Joe Pettyjohn, Marketing/Communications and Leadership Giving Associate

In June 2019, over 1,000 United Way volunteers came together over two days to help fight hunger in Berks County during the Big Cheese, a United Way signature event. Locally, one in five people are food insecure, or at risk of being food insecure. The volunteers packaged 500,000 meals — mac and cheese meals during the Friday evening session, and rice and bean meals during the Saturday morning session. Once again, this year’s Big Cheese is noted as the largest event of its type organized by a United Way, as well as the largest food packing event by any organization in the northeast. Everyone involved should feel proud about what was accomplished!

Partnership with Helping Harvest

United Way has again partnered with Helping Harvest to distribute the meals to Berks County families in need during the coming months. In addition, Reading School District will distribute a portion of the meals to their most-in-need students through the district’s Knight’s Closet, a school pantry. For many school-aged children, these packaged meals provide a nutritious meal where otherwise, there would be none.

History of The Big Cheese

Big Cheese began five years ago in response to local food insecurity issues, with the first event packing 100,000 meals. United Way partners with The Outreach Program, a nonprofit established to fight hunger, and responsible for packaging more than 345 million meals distributed across the United States and around the world. Since our event’s inception, close to 2,000,000 meals have been packaged by very energetic, enthusiastic and committed volunteers. Many thanks to Penn State Berks for hosting this annual effort.

Volunteerism at Its Finest

This year’s volunteers included families, corporate and nonprofit teams and individuals. Teams participating in Big Cheese 5 represented 65 local organizations. Just as the event has grown since its inception, enthusiasm for the event has exploded. This past event saw registration for available spots fill up in a matter of a few days. People see the need and want to help.

United Way continues to address critical community needs, and few are as important as having enough nutritious food to eat. As we begin to plan for Big Cheese 6, we know we can rely on the strong support of this community. Our entire community is strengthened when we all pitch in to help our neighbors in need. The message to our volunteers is clear: you are making a significant difference by volunteering!

Whether you are interested in providing meals to families in need, childhood education, etc., United Way provides volunteer opportunities to fit your interests! To explore volunteer opportunities throughout the year, visit our volunteer site.

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