Bountiful Blessings…Meeting community needs at Greater Allen

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NEEDED SUPPLIES—A few of the items given to those in need at the Bountiful Blessings Inc.’s North Side location.

Bountiful Blessings offers non-food items such as shampoo, bath tissue and cleaning products, items not covered by the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, to those facing economic hardships. There are currently 25 Bountiful Blessings sites located in Pennsylvania and Maryland, with three of them in the Pittsburgh area-Munhall, Bethel Park and now the North Side.

“They need someone to give them a hand up, not a hand out because we’re asking them to give back time. They really do need these things (and) you can’t get them on food stamps or other government programs. The food stamp program gives them x amount of dollars to use how they want, but a lot of other times, there’s other things they need,” Orendi said. “You can get caviar on food stamps, but you can’t get feminine products. I can’t buy toilet paper, but I can get hot nachos.”

While she thinks the food stamp program should be re-examined, Orendi said her job is to find a loophole to the problem and fix it. Which she has done well.

Twice a month, the second and fourth Saturday of the month, Greater Allen will open its doors to individuals and families in search of non-food items that are often needed, but the hardest to purchase when funds are low. Each month, for a year, they will receive assistance, with the organization’s only request being that, as a thank you, the families volunteer for three hours, within a year’s time, at either a Bountiful Blessings site or the church. If they have volunteered by the end of the year, they are welcome to receive assistance the following year.

“And as a result there’s relationships being built and rekindled between the church and the community.”

In order to begin receiving assistance through Bountiful Blessings, individuals must bring proof of their current address, whether it’s a license, utility bill or rental agreement. Also, if a family has a child under the age of 24 months, they must present a copy of their birth certificate and they’ll receive diapers, wipes and other baby products.

Orendi explained that the organization had to begin asking for birth certificates because people were registering children that weren’t theirs, getting the items and then selling them on the street.

Bountiful Blessings, Orendi said, is different from other organizations that offer assistance because they provide non-food items and they let the families decide themselves what they need.

“We’re not going to tell you what you need. You go in, we give you a bag and we tell you to shop. You pick out what you need for the next two weeks and we check you out. All we ask is that you give back through your time. It’s that simple.”

While many of the programs that offer assistance are based on one’s family size and income, Bountiful Blessings is not.

“We don’t base it on income. I don’t care what you earn. You can be making $60,000 a year, but if you have a special needs child and you’re trying to help your parents, it’s gone,” Orendi said. “We figure, if you don’t have enough money at the end of the month, you probably need help. If you’re humble enough to ask for help, you’re going to get it. So as long as they can get there, they can get the help.’

On average, Orendi said, the program assists 1200-1500 families a month. She said last year, they gave away 200,000 items and assisted approximately 9,000 families. This year the program is expected to serve 14,000 families.

“All of our sites are growing. We have 25 locations and they’re all growing. Even people who are working are not able to make ends meet. Our focus is the working poor and that demographic is getting larger and larger.”

The Mechanicsburg, Pa., based organization began in January 2001, after Orendi received a Word from God while at a Central Pennsylvania church.

“I walked into a room inside of a church in Central Pennsylvania and God pretty much said, ‘this is where it’ll begin.’” She said it took four years to work out the bugs in the system and once it was finalized they began to start expanding their reach.

Orendi said she hopes to continue to expand the number of families and communities that Bountiful Blessings reaches, and absolutely loves serving the community; she even calls it her passion and calling.

“I enjoy doing the trainings and coming out to the sites, it’s my way to connect with the church, the families and really getting back to the grass roots of what we’re all about.”

Along with offering non-food items, Bountiful Blessings also offers books for their summer reading program in June, back to school items in August and toys around Christmas. They also distribute bibles to those who visit their sites.

Orendi said while the organization is always looking for partnerships, and donations of items and money, they also need more bibles.

“When they check out we ask them if they need a bible. If they say yes, good. If not, we’d like to be able to give them one. If nothing else, it’s to give them hope.”

(For more information on Bountiful Blessings, call 717-802-1222 or visit http://www.bountifulblessingsinc.org.)

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