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West Chester Weekly News Roundup

S. Walnut Street

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It’s Friday, July 15. Rising food prices aren’t just making the weekly shopping trip a bigger nuisance than usual they are having a very real impact on our community. I spoke with several local nonprofits to learn just how bad things have gotten. Plus, a new children’s business fair aims to inspire the next generation, and fresh-made sticky buns coming to the borough? Yes, please. Who’s ready? Let’s catch up.

“We are not back to normal and more people are hurting because of inflation and the increased cost of everything.”

Fiona Allison, West Chester Food Cupboard,

The devasting impact of high food prices.

Unassuming on a Thursday afternoon, the Dorthy Day room at St. Agnes Church has been busy of late.

Last week I was speaking with the Chester County Food Bank about their raised garden bed program and it was mentioned that they were seeing increased demand for food assistance across the county. Then inflation numbers came out for June showing prices up  9.1 percent compared to a year ago. So I sent out a quick email to some West Chester nonprofits on the frontlines of feeding our community to get a better understanding of how these price increases are affecting residents. Are they seeing an increase in demand for food assistance? 

The emails came back fast and furious. The answer is a resounding YES. 

“The number of families coming to the facility is nearly double what it was a year ago,” wrote Fiona Allison, volunteer and board member at the West Chester Food Cupboard. And that doesn’t include the families that they serve outside the facility or their support of the area’s school children, which they took on this summer after pandemic funds for such initiatives began to dry up.  

“It really is tough,” said Fiona, “And people are stressed. They are really stressed.”

“Pre-pandemic in 2019,” shared Barbara Kirby, Director of Outreach Services for Saint Agnes Parish and the Dorothy Day Center, “we were serving an average of 80 hot lunch meals a day. Today we are serving between 140 and 187 lunch meals per day.” In June they served 3,020 lunches and 900 breakfasts more than double what they did pre-pandemic.

As you can probably guess, this means a lot of people who never thought they would ever need to seek assistance are now in need of help. Many of those showing up each week are employed. “It is not unusual for our guests to work several jobs,” Barbara said.  It’s just that their income has not kept up with the soaring rate of inflation. “If you are working two minimum wage jobs, you still can’t afford much,” agreed Fiona. This has been especially true at the West Chester Area Senior Center where a lot of the members are on fixed incomes. 

“On more than one occasion [individuals] have pulled me or one of my staff or volunteers aside to specifically say, ‘I used to donate food here… and now I find myself needing to pick up food each week,’” said Kathy Sulivan, Executive Director at the West Chester Area Senior Center.

It is not just food costs that are dragging down monthly budgets but also increases in gas and rental prices and that is having an effect on not only individual budgets or organization budgets as well. 

“We’re certainly no financial advisors or experts or forecasters but we are assuming the increased need for food will continue and that, even when maybe gas or food costs decline a bit, rents and other very real living costs (i.e. insurance, medical care, etc.) will stay high enough that they will continue to have a strong impact on our community,” said Kathy.

Show support

Bread donations stacked up at the West Chester Senior Center.

If you can help, all local organizations would appreciate your support. Here are some ideas suggested by each of the organizations. 

The Dorthy Day Center: Bottled water, nonperishable donations, diapers, wipes, and personal care items. Find a complete list of need items here. They could also use assistance with their back-to-school backpack and supply drive. Call the Outreach Desk at 610-429-0697 to help with that. If you would like to help prepare meals that would also be welcome, email stagnesdayroomcooks@gmail.com for more information on how you can help. 

West Chester Food Cupboard: Cash donations are always preferred so that they can purchase the food items they need most. Store gift cards (Giant and ShopRite) are also most welcome and during the summer they accept fresh produce from gardens. So don’t pitch that excess! Like bringing goods? Find a list of the most needed items on their website.

West Chester Senior Center: Food and household items are always welcome as well as grocery and big box gift cards. They also welcome volunteers. If you would like to contribute time, complete their volunteer application and bring it to their 530 E. Union Street location.

Get help with your grocery bills 

If you are facing food insecurity, first know there is no judgment. “There’s nothing shameful about coming to the food bank,” said Fiona. Food insecurity can affect anyone. “People you pass by in the street and you’d never imagine, but they need food assistance.” 

Not sure how to get started? Any of the above organizations are ready to help. You can call 211. It is a free and confidential crisis and emergency counseling hotline and they can help make sure you get the services best suited to your situation.

“We are not back to normal and more people are hurting because of inflation and the increased cost of everything,” said Fiona. Until then, we all need to come together in support. 

The future’s so bright, I got to wear shades – Sell them, too.

Next Saturday this area will be full with dreams.

Next weekend on the grounds of Marshall Square Park, 42 entrepreneurs representing 25 businesses will set up near the monument. They will be selling a variety of wares from dog toys to organic microgreens to homemade reusable lunch bags. Many for the first time – because all of these entrepreneurs are kids. 

“A few months ago, I saw a couple of kids selling lemonade in the borough, and it sparked the idea,” said John McDonald, West Chester resident and, along with his wife Tori, organizer of the borough’s first-ever Children’s Business Fair. “We thought there were probably lots of kids with great ideas and an entrepreneurial spirit,” he said.

Now, those kids have a place to show off that spirit. Except for set-up and tear-down, the businesses – from marketing to pricing strategy to making of change – must be done entirely by the kids.  

“We hope an event like this sparks joy and creativity and maybe helps [the kids] clarify their passions,” said John. He also hopes the community turns out to show their support. 

The Children’s Business Fair is Saturday, July 23, from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. Stop by to catch a glimpse of what the marketplace of the future will look like.  

(If you are reading this and thinking this is a great idea. I know a kid who would like to participate. Unfortunately, the event is maxed out for this year. “Spots filled up very quickly,” said John, but, as they say, there is next year. “We absolutely want to bring it back. Our intention is to grow this each subsequent year and hopefully get more sponsorships and involvement from the community,” said John.)

***SPONSORED***

What’s for Lunch? Couch Tomato

Start your lunch with the delicious Food Pyramid salad.

In response to a request for more restaurant content, I am launching a new summer feature asking some of the borough’s chefs, restaurant owners, and workers what they would order for lunch and why. This week, Couch Tomato.

To get the scoop, I spoke with Jack Schilling, a manager at Couch Tomato, the Gay Street pizzeria that has been serving the Borough fresh, local, and organic options since 2015. He suggests starting your lunch with their popular Food Pyramid salad. The made-to-order salad begins with your choice of greens. It is then topped with chicken, strawberries, cucumber, farmers cheese – and a sprinkling of – according to Jack, “The best-candied pecans you’ve ever tasted.” 

Pair that with a personal “Coach Tony” pizza. That’s a boardwalk-style pepperoni pizza with hot honey drizzle on their housemade organic pizza dough. Then finish your lunch with, what has to be my favorite part of this entire profile, the Chilled Strawberry Soup with Pound Cake croutons. Wow. Does that sound good on this 86-degree day or what?

But that’s just the tip of the menu, the Couch Tomato has something for everyone.

“We proudly advertise our house-made gluten-free pizza recipe and have a variety of options for our vegetarian and vegan guests. For example, all pizza sauces, sandwich spreads, and salad dressings are made in-house and are plant-based, gluten-free, soy and nut free!” Jack said.

So grab a friend and come on down for a relaxing lunch on their rooftop deck where you can enjoy a beautiful view of downtown while discussing summer plans over a personal pizza or panini –  ooh, that Chickaletta sandwich sounds good, too.

This is a sponsored post. Thank you to Couch Tomato for their support of Hello, West Chester! If you are in town this weekend, stop by and give their lunch menu a try. 

***

The warnings.

West Chester University

Know who’s hanging around. Randy Lee Boston, a former teacher at the West Chester Christian School, is set to face trial on charges of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent assault of a person less than 13, and sexual contact with a student, among other things. Mr. Boston served as a fifth-grade teacher at the small Paoli Pike school beginning in 1979 to at least 2008 when the incident allegedly occurred. He is now serving as pastor of the Bible Baptist Church in Shickshinny, PA. Mr. Boston is out on bail as he awaits trial next month.  

In more disturbing news, admitted child porn collector John Sigismondi of Westtown was sentenced to six to 12 years in state prison last week. The sentence was less than the 10 – 20 years the prosecution was seeking, and well less than the 100 years Mr. Sigismondi could have received, but much more than the 23 months the defense had been hoping for. His child pornography collection reportedly numbered into the millions. 

COVID cases are on the rise again. In the story that just won’t go away, COVID cases are again on the rise in Chester County. Last week the county incident rate moved from low to medium after a 27 percent increase in new cases. If all this talk of variants has you itching for another vaccine booster, the Chester County Health Department – says, hold up, wait a minute.

“We must first receive approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the CDC before we can start administering second boosters to everyone,” they shared in a statement this week. 

If it’s not one communicable disease, it’s another. A West Chester University student tested positive for monkeypox over the weekend. 

Accolades. 

Earlier this month, Main Line Today released its annual “best of” list and, once again, West Chester was well represented. West Chester saw 27 businesses win across 34 categories including eight critic choice winners (the others are voted on by readers.) Your critic choice winners include: 

Align.Space for best work-from-home alternative; Carlino’s Market for best artisan market; Champion’s Barbershop for best old-school barbershop; Good Bad & Ugly for best speakeasy vibe (and French fries); Hop Fidelity for best hybrid hipster hangout (are hipsters still a thing?); Spence Cafe for best BYOB date night; Taco Mar for best Mexican BYOB and Split Rail for best karaoke night.

If you can’t find a good time in that list somewhere, there is something wrong with you. Congratulations to all the winners!

You can find the full list here.  

And while we’re here, congratulations to West Chester University (and to us, as the community recipient) on being recognized as one of the most community-minded employers in the greater Philadelphia region. Organizations were recognized not only for the scope of their investment but also for the extent to which it informs overall operations. West Chester University includes Community Engagement as one of the main pillars of their Strategic Plan. Now, if they would only pay taxes. 

Finally, a round of applause to the 18 winners and all those that participated in the West Chester Area School District’s 6th Annual E-Poetry Contest. The contest, which was open to students in grades 1-12, reached epic proportions this year with 150 entrants. The contest strives to push the budding poets outside their comfort zones.

“This contest and culminating ceremony not only offer our students an amazing opportunity to showcase their passion and talent but also to challenge themselves to confidently share their art with an audience,” said WCASD Assistant Superintendent Dr. Kalia Reynolds.

The poets’ works will get even greater reach this fall when the first-ever Poetry Anthology Books are sent to each district school’s main office. 

Hello. 

City Buns, coming soon.

Last week, we learned of some new treats coming to downtown West Chester – so new in fact they haven’t had a chance to remove all the dummy text from their website yet. City Buns is a new pastry shop planned for 34 S. High Street. According to their still-under-construction website, expect a variety of cinnamon rolls, sticky buns, and other baked delights.

From an early hello to a late welcome. A “nice to meet you” to Vape and Beyond Smoke Shop that opened in the Gay Street Commons roughly two months ago. The one-stop smoke shop operates in the former home of Rimon’s Coffee and Grocery. While I am still pulling for an independent bookstore – at least it is not a Hookah bar.  

Also, this week we say hello to new voting districts. This time for Pennsylvania State House races. 

“As of December 1, 2022, our district (the 156th district) will consist of West Chester Borough, East Bradford Township, West Goshen Township, and almost (but not quite) all of East Goshen Township,” Representative Dianne Herrin wrote on Facebook. Not sure if that’s you? You can find the new map here

Finally say hello, to good company. This year several Chester County school districts including Downingtown Area, Great Valley, Spring-Ford, Owen J Roberts, and Unionville-Chadds Ford are joining West Chester in recognizing, Diwali Day with a day off from school. Falling on October 24 this year, Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights and is celebrated by an estimated three million people in the U.S. West Chester Area School District has been giving the holiday off since at least 2021. 

Goodbye.

Pete’s Produce’s famous Mirai corn. Photo: Petes Produce Farm on Instagram.

Come this fall, say goodbye to Pete’s Produce Farm Market on Route 926. Pete Flynn the farmer behind the market is retiring and he is taking his famous corn with him. On Nov. 12 the farm and store equipment will be auctioned off and the popular market stand vacated. Fortunately, the farm, which is housed on 170 acres of the Westtown School campus, will remain farm according to a statement from the school provided to the Daily Local. 

“This spring we distributed a request for proposals, in which we sought an experienced, community-minded farmer with retail experience. The response was strong and we are in the process of selecting a new partner,” Westtown School’s Director of Facilities Kate Donnelly shared with reporter Bill Rettew. 

So hopefully, the farm and its stand will be back – Pete, too, after he’s done traveling. There is a good piece on his legacy this week in the Daily Local. You can read it here.  

Pay it forward.

West Chester Public Library needs your help.

This week in Pay it Forward we are going to look at a couple of ways to make a difference – the hard way and the easy way – both equally rewarding. 

First, the hard way, West Chester University music education student Bonnie Calhoun has been worried about the future of music education in this country. So this spring, working with West Chester University Director of Orchestral Studies Joseph Caminiti, she led an on-campus effort to raise money for Musicopia, a nonprofit organization that brings music education and instruments to students in underfunded communities. Her efforts were shared last month in Broadway World.

Looking for an easier way to make a difference? And have a fondness for civics and zoning laws? Then, boy, do I have an opportunity for you. West Chester Borough is looking for a new member of its Planning Commission. As a member of the planning commission, you will advise Borough Council on zoning and planning matters – oh the power. Note you do need to be a full-time resident to apply. If you are interested, send your resume and letter of interest to Dana DiDomenico. Applications are being accepted through August 1. 

More of a book person? The Library Board is also seeking volunteers.

 The freakin’ weekend. 

Summer dining on Gay Street.

What are you up to this weekend? My parents are visiting so we are going to take them out for gelato. We are also going to finally check out Top Gun Maverick – sans kiddos. I’m very excited. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a movie in a theater and from all I’ve heard – this is a good one. No, spoilers, please. 

If you are around town this weekend, Sharkey’s West Chester is hosting a customer appreciation event today. All haircuts will be $7 off. There will also be a face painter and special guests. Fairman’s is hosting an all-female art show from 5 – 9 p.m. tonight. And Levante just got an artisanal pizza truck for their West Chester Taproom. Stop by through Sunday to check it out.

Plus, Instagram-worthy drinks at Bar Avalon, artisan mugs you can take in the car, and yum, homemade crepes.

Mark your calendars:

That’s it. Stay safe, stay healthy and I’ll see you next week. 

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