King of Prussia, PA - When it came time last year to present Pope Francis with a commemoration of his time in Montgomery County, Pa., there were lots of gift ideas: books, mementos, glassware.
But the VFTCB had a different thought.
Instead of a physical gift, why not establish a charitable outreach in his name?
"It just made sense," Mike Bowman said, reflecting on the initiative. "The suggestions were all around stuff. But Pope Francis wasn't about stuff. He was about care for the poor. So we established a food drive around his visit and gave him a proclamation that announced it as a yearly show of support."
Now, a year later, the VFTCB has added the Valley Forge Freedom from Hunger campaign to its array of brands, alongside Destination Shop Montco, Destination Montco Golf and Patriot Trails. The tourism group has also established an ambitious goal: 1,776 pounds of food collected between September 17 and October 1.
"It's a number that resonates around here," Bowman explained. "It's easy to remember and speaks to Valley Forge."
County Commissioner Vice Chair Dr. Val Arkoosh recognizes the drive's importance, especially in light of the 2015 World Meeting of Families: "Last year, Montgomery County had the honor of being Pope Francis' ‘Home away from Rome," she said. "This year, we continue to honor the Pope's legacy of charity by helping those in need in our own community. We thank the VFTCB for their leadership in this effort."
Collection boxes will be spread all over the county, making it as easy as possible for the public to swing by and drop off nonperishable items:
- Hilton Garden Inn, Fort Washington
- SpringHill Suites, Willow Grove
- Hyatt House, Plymouth Meeting
- Holiday Inn Express, King of Prussia
- Valley Forge Casino Resort, King of Prussia
- Holiday Inn, Lansdale
- Sheraton Valley Forge, King of Prussia
- Philadelphia Premium Outlets, Limerick
- Elmwood Park Zoo, Norristown
- Boehm's United Church of Christ, Blue Bell
- St. James Episcopal Church, Collegeville
One of the VFTCB's partners in this effort is HealthSpark Foundation, a private, independent foundation based in Colmar. It provides support to organizations serving the unmet health and human service needs of Montgomery County.
Tamela Luce, Senior Program Officer, says, "Montgomery County is the third-richest county in the state. And still, more than 12,000 children each year go hungry.
"We welcome the help of the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board in addressing this issue, which, to many residents is unknown or thought to exist only in our urban centers of Norristown or Pottstown.
"The truth is," she continues, "it hits every community in our county."
Luce says that the late-September timing for this drive is very apt. Food needs throughout the summer deplete local pantries' supplies, and stock generally doesn't bounce back until November, when Thanksgiving-themed collections kick in.
The other key partner of the VFTCB is the MontCo Anti-Hunger Network, a coalition of hunger relief organizations working together to make healthy foods available to all communities in Montgomery County.
MontCo Anti-Hunger Network's role will be continually emptying the donation boxes and distributing collected items through its extensive network of food pantries, cupboards and soup kitchens.
Full details on participation are available on the VFTCB website.
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The Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board (VFTCB) is a nonprofit, membership-based sales and marketing organization that actively promotes Valley Forge and Montgomery County, Pa., as a convention site and leisure visitor destination by encouraging patronage of its 400-plus member hotels, restaurants, attractions and services. The Board's award-winning website, valleyforge.org, serves visitors, meeting planners, tour operators and residents, as well as hosts The Pursuit, a nationally recognized blog. The VFTCB oversees a portfolio of brands that include Valley Forge Sports, Montco 360, Destination Montco Weddings, Patriot Trails and Destination Montco Golf. It is also the publisher of the new dining magazine Crave, issued twice yearly.