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Danielle Ruhf, founder and CEO of Child Hunger Outreach Partners, recently expanded the nonprofit’s efforts into the Tunkhannock Area School District.

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STAFF PHOTOS/BROOKE WILLIAMS CHOP CEO and founder Danielle Ruhf, left, leads volunteers Karen Chmieleski, Teresa Cavalier and Phillip McKeon in unpacking a truck of food at the former Mehoopany Elementary School.

Wyoming County has been on the radar for the nonprofit Child Hunger Outreach Partners since its founding in Bradford County last year.

“We saw meal gap in Wyoming County of about 17 percent for children,” said Danielle Ruhf, founder and CEO of CHOP. “We know the need doesn’t end at the county line. The more we expand, the more kids we can serve.”

As a student in Wyalusing Area School District, Ruhf’s daughter was upset to learn that not all of her peers had food to eat at school during lunchtime. This inspired Ruhf to take action.

CHOP started out serving 45 students in Bradford County and has since expanded its operations, all with the mission to “create a generation that doesn’t know hunger.”

In addition to its presence in Bradford and Tioga counties, CHOP affiliates have also formed in Florida, Georgia, Maine, Maryland and South Carolina.

Now, CHOP has taken over two rooms in the former Mehoopany Elementary School to offer its programs in the Tunkhannock Area School District through a partnership with the Commission on Economic Opportunity/Weinberg Northeast Regional Food Bank.

This month, CHOP will begin offering its backpack program in Tunkhannock Area schools, which sends students home each Friday with food for the weekend.

Once this program has been established in Tunkhannock, CHOP will also set up an in-school food pantry at the high school level.

In what she anticipates being a “long and successful partnership,” Superintendent Heather McPherson believes CHOP could fill a “critical need” in the school district.

McPherson has reached out to administrators in Bradford County school districts, all of which gave CHOP positive reviews.

“I think that there are a lot of families in need and this is going to provide some healthy alternatives and supplement what families are able to provide,” she said. “Kids that are not hungry are better prepared to learn.”

The Mehoopany Elementary School, which the district closed during its consolidation, will serve as a storage area and volunteer workspace for CHOP’s Wyoming County efforts.

This week, Tunkhannock Area students received paperwork to sign up for the backpack program, which is optional and has no income requirements, Ruhf said.

Once established, the pantry will allow any student to stop in and grab as many items as they need. Opening the pantry up to all students eliminates any stigma, she said.

Next summer, CHOP will also introduce its summer feeding program in Tunkhannock, where students could receive a box containing enough food for one week.

CHOP also holds pop-up pantries in communities throughout the year. This summer, Ruhf said she hopes CHOP could collaborate with organizations offering summer programs for kids, such as libraries.

CHOP has made a huge difference for kids, as well as their families and schools, Ruhf said. Through eliminating hunger, she anticipates decreased behavioral issues, better grades and higher attendance rates in school.

Long term, she hopes CHOP could contribute to the creation of a generation that doesn’t need to worry about having their basic needs met.

Ruhf estimates that serving the Tunkhannock Area School District for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year will cost $25,000.

Monetary donations are preferred because through its partnerships, the nonprofit has the ability to purchase items in bulk at lower costs. However, CHOP does not turn away food donations.

“I want to always be a good steward of people’s graciousness,” Ruhf said.

Eventually, CHOP also hopes to expand into Susquehanna, Luzerne and Lackawanna counties through its partnership with CEO/Weinberg.

For information about CHOP volunteer opportunities, donations and programs, visit childhungeroutreachpartners.com or “Child Hunger Outreach Partners - CHOP” on Facebook.