JENKINS TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — The economic impacts of the pandemic are still being felt across our region. According to officials at one of the area’s largest food banks, a major expansion is planned at the facility.

It’s all about helping those families who are facing challenges putting food on their tables. Senator Bob Casey (D) PA helped secure federal funds for that expansion.

“A lot of lives are saved here. A lot of futures are enhanced because of what Weinberg does. What we got to continue to do is just support them,” said sen. Casey (D) PA.

Senator Bob Casey toured the CEO Weinberg Regional Food Bank near Pittston Tuesday to see for himself how a planned expansion will help the facility better serve families facing food insecurity.

Casey helped secure more than $800,000 in federal funds, much of it through the American Rescue Plan.

The food bank’s expansion includes a 15,000-square-foot addition, cooler space, and freezer space.

“I’m always amazed not just with the organization itself but the volunteers who help them,” Casey told Eyewitness News.

Officials at the Weinberg Food Bank say they are seeing an increase in the number of families facing food insecurity.

“Pre-covid we could hang on to product and see turnover 9 or 10 times in a year. Right now we’re seeing an inventory turnover 20 plus times in a year. So when you think about what that really means. The minute it comes in the doors. It’s right out,” said Gretchen Hunt Greaves, the director of Nutrition Programs Resource Development.

The food bank served nearly 83,000 people last year which was up 12% from the year before.

“Food insecurity is something difficult to talk about right? I think it’s something that may be embarrassing really especially when you have children. It’s not something you want to talk about. You’re used to being able to provide for your family, take care of your family, take care of yourself. Times are really hard,” Greaves explained.

Providing that food for families in rural communities is a challenge.

“I think what’s important in our rural communities there’s a transportation gap. So it could be a 30-mile drive to pick up free food,” said Debra Shurtleff, the director of the Wyoming County Alliance.

To help resolve those transportation challenges, the Wyoming County Alliance has set up a volunteer delivery service to get food to the families in need.

The expansion project is expected to be completed in late 2023 or early 2024.