Written by Jessica R. Dreistadt, Planner for Lehigh Valley Community Land Trust, Rising Tide Community Loan Fund, West Ward Neighborhood Partnership, and Renew Lehigh Valley.

Our Past

I was recently given the arduous task of piecing together CACLV’s early history, a time we unfortunately don’t know very much about. With the help of one box of records which had survived multiple moves and transitions, the Internet, and our friends at the Bethlehem Area Public Library, Easton Area Public Library, Allentown Public Library, and Northampton County Historical and Genealogical Society, we were able to reconstruct some of our past.

Community Action Agencies were conceptualized by President Lyndon Baines Johnson and his administration, and their establishment became a part of federal law when he signed the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA) on August 20, 1964. At our 49th annual meeting, held earlier this week, CACLV Board President Olga Negron stated that, “Community Action Agencies grew out of an era marked by turmoil and tragedy but also idealism and creativity.” This context foreshadowed the complexity and intricacy of the work that we do. Our charge was, and remains, “to eliminate the paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty.”

Locally, Community Action was first discussed at the November 1964 board of directors meeting of the Lehigh Valley Community Council (now United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley). They had received a formal request from the Pennsylvania Citizens’ Council to lead and coordinate local EOA implementation. A steering committee was formed the following month, and a statement of purpose, organization, and responsibilities of the 50-member Community Action Committee was approved by the Lehigh Valley Community Council board on May 13, 1965. Later that month, an application for a program development grant was submitted to the Office of Economic Opportunity in Washington, D.C.

The Lehigh Valley Community Council subsequently passed a resolution to grant full autonomy to the Community Action Committee based on a recommendation from legal staff at the Office of Economic Opportunity. On December 20, 1965, the organization officially incorporated as Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, Inc. Francis Cosgrove — executive director of the Lehigh Valley Community Council — concurrently served as the first executive director of CACLV (our first full time executive director, Dr. Charles E. Chaffee, was hired in 1967) and Claude D. Peters was our first board chair.

A lot has happened over the past 50 years. A lot. Our activities are much too numerous, and our impact far too expansive, to exhaustively describe everything here. Our history could literally fill the pages of a book, or perhaps even several volumes. I hope that, one day, our stories, knowledge, accomplishments, heartaches, controversies, and triumphs are all captured in a neatly bound book that inspires the next generation of activists. Perhaps this will be my retirement project many years from now. Or yours.

But just as important as what we as an organization have done are the contributions that have been made by thousands of Lehigh Valley residents over the years. Most of the meetings, activities, and decisions in which we are involved today may seem insignificant, par for the course; but someday those actions may seem monumental, even heroic, to others as they read about and recall our efforts.

I have been so moved over the past two months as I reviewed innumerable newspaper articles, reports, internal memos, and other documents to better understand and paint a more complete picture of our past. I envisioned the meetings, the events, and the dramas playing out in my head as I reviewed scores of what might otherwise be boring documents. I wish I could personally meet all of the many volunteers who have served on our board and committees over the past 50 years, give them a hug or shake their hand — whichever their preference — and tell them how valuable their involvement was. We who are soldiers in the War on Poverty stand on the shoulders of our communal ancestors.

But sadly, so many of the people who made CACLV what it is today are no longer with us. And some have just chosen to no longer be with us, in particular. As they say, people come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. While we wish that our volunteers and supporters would develop a lifetime relationship with the agency, we understand that life brings with it many challenges, opportunities, and competing priorities. Fortunately, we were able to gather 15 of our approximately 25 former board presidents to tell the story of CACLV in this inspiring video created by the very talented Marco Calderon.

“The Presidents” from Marco Calderon on Vimeo.

We are all part of this community, and a piece of the solution to poverty lies within each of us. No matter how small you think your piece is, it means a lot. To us. To you. To your neighbors. To our community. You can be a help us eliminate poverty. You can help us make history.


This blog post is part of a three-part series, Community Action: Our Past, Present, and Future. The next installment will be posted on Friday October 9.

By Nicole Reeder, Dietetic Intern in the Nutrition Education Department at Second Harvest Food Bank

Each September, Feeding America spends the month campaigning for hunger awareness.  Hunger in America is more prevalent than many realize—1 in 6 Americans to be exact. September is the time to raise awareness of these facts, and to encourage each of us to take action!

Here in the Lehigh VallHunger Action Month 3ey, Second Harvest Food Bank works year-round to end hunger for the residents of Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon, Monroe, Pike, and Wayne County. Seven million pounds of food is distributed each year to the more than 70,000 people who need food in these counties. With the help of many volunteers, Second Harvest is also able to provide food for two particularly vulnerable populations in our community—children and senior citizens—through the Backpack Buddies and SUNShine Box distributions. In addition, Second Harvest runs a Cooking Matters program which teaches low-income members of our community how to plan and cook meals while sticking to a budget.

How can you take action during Hunger Action Month?

Start right now by promoting Spoontember—Feeding America’s social media campaign for Hunger Action Month 2015. All you need to do is balance a spoon on your nose (as best as you can!) and post a selfie to your social media account of choice. Make sure to include #Spoontember and #HungerActionMonth and challenge a friend to do the same!

Looking to do more? After you have posted your spoon selfie, work on spreading awareness.   Let your friends, family, and co-workers know that September is Hunger Action Month. Educate yourself, and your peers, on why we have hunger in America and what hunger in America looks like. If you’re feeling more a

mbitious, consider volunteering your time at a local food pantry, making a monetary donation to Second Harvest, or coordinating a food drive in your local community.

To find out more about the challenge to overcome hunger in America, and in the Lehigh Valley in particular, check out:

Second Harvest Food Bank of Lehigh Valley and Northeast Pennsylvania

Feeding America

No Kid Hungry

If you would like to help packing for Backpack Buddies and SUNShine Box, please call Second Harvest Food Bank at 484-287-4015 or email shfb-info@caclv.org.

Hunger Action Month 2









Happy Spoontember!

We are almost 2 months into the fiscal year and there is no sign that the legislature is going to do one of the most fundamental tasks they have as a governing body. We still do not have a budget and the halls of the Capitol were empty today. They appear to have no intention of resolving this impasse any time soon.

Today, Better Choices, a statewide coalition of groups advocating for a fair budget, held a press conference in the rotunda to call on the legislature to do its job and act in the best interests of the Commonwealth.

Alan Jennings, Executive Director of CACLV, was invited to offer his comments at the press conference. Following are his remarks:

Throughout Pennsylvania, non-profits that exist for the sole purpose of serving others are calculating how they will do that work without laying off their underpaid staff or borrowing money. Our staff in Bethlehem is on the verge of tapping our line of credit. We expect to have to borrow more than $300,000 within the next few days. Keep in mind that it is federal money that we are expecting, money that cannot be released without the authority of an adopted state budget.

We don’t do this work to get rich. Many of the people working in the non-profit sector are eligible for the services we provide. Instead, out of a deep sense of obligation, of compassion, of faith, we believe in the notion that, together, collectively, we don’t turn our backs on those left out, left behind.

When women are being beaten by the men in their lives, we create havens of safety. When families can’t pay their bills, we create food banks. When people hear voices nobody else hears, we provide medicine and a sympathetic ear. When people are old and frail, we hold their hands.

It is in that context, then, that we wonder about the calculus that leads our legislative leaders to use tricks to score political points rather than earnestly find a way to pay to respond to the very real needs of their constituents.

As the budget impasse wears on, it seems like the very real needs of Pennsylvanians who are hurting are being cynically disregarded in favor of political games that will do little good for anyone. Too many in the legislature are doing everything they can to justify their own view that government doesn’t work by making sure it can’t work.

Governor Wolf is defying political convention by taking the lead in proposing to raise the revenue we need to invest in ourselves and our communities.

Here is the new calculus: we can take the path to investing in educating a competitive workforce, in creating jobs, in protecting the weakest among us, in strengthening our communities; or we can continue to take the path to nowhere.

My City in Flames

Posted: 28th April 2015 by Alan Jennings in community action
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by Alan Jennings

Most people who know me know that I am a diehard fan of the Baltimore Orioles. I am from Hagerstown, Maryland. My family could only afford vacations returning home to visit aunts, uncles, grandparents. I learned racism there. It was weird: one of my baseball heroes was

Orioles outfielder Frank Robinson; I never understood why people who looked like my baseball hero were getting beat up by people who looked like my father, simply because of the color of their skin. I remember driving, on the way to old Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street, past the row houses charred by the riots in 1968. Tonight the Orioles game was postponed because Baltimore is in flames again. It is painful, sad, disgusting how little progress has been made in these 40 years.

I am obsessed with fairness. I have spent my life getting between the bully and his target. I have fought like hell trying desperately to make a difference. With a lot of help from so many good people in the Lehigh Valley I have created the Second Harvest Food Bank, the Sixth Street Shelter, helped the marginalized buy their first home, start a business. And, yet, I am despondent over how little progress has been made.

Watching cops shoot black men running for their lives, then planting a Taser at the feet of the dead body – it seems like a modern day lynching. We’ve gotten better at screwing people of color out of the liberty and justice for all that we fool ourselves believing we really care about. We know all the tricks: we use zoning rules to require minimum lot sizes, the only real purpose of which is to exclude; we pay for and govern our so-called public schools in ways that can only be characterized as educational apartheid; we cut funding year after year for programs that can make a difference and then say, “See? Government doesn’t work.”

And we deny we are racist. We get indignant when people of color point out, over and over, the many ways we clearly are. Imagine: you get mistreated, left out, shot in the back and you’re not allowed to point out that you’re being mistreated, left out, shot in the back.

There is no excuse for the looting.  It defies reason that they are looting the best assets in their neighborhood. And focusing on the looting when there are hundreds of people peacefully pointing out that we have very real problems seems almost like it is designed to let ourselves off the hook.

After this op-ed runs, read the comments people post. People hiding in the shadows will make ugly, despicable comments. Your coworkers will say things to you that they must know they shouldn’t say but they won’t be able to help themselves. I will get emails from friends who will be outraged by what I’ve written.

They know enough to know it is a bad thing to be racist. But they don’t know enough to realize how racist they are. In fact, my friend, Ed DeGrace, says denying there is racism is the new form of racism.

Folks, we can do better. We can be better. You can stay in Lala Land or you can stand up. You can turn your back or you can face the truth. You can take more or you can give more.

It doesn’t have to be this way. But nothing will change if each of us doesn’t search our souls looking for a way to douse the flames of hatred that are just too damned real. When will we stop blaming the victims? How many times do you have to have the door slammed in your face? How many times do you have to be kicked when you’re down before you take to the streets? Time’s up, America.  It’s time we hugged the stranger, loved our neighbor, understood oppression, unlearned racism, fessed up to our role, asked for forgiveness and found a way to be better people.

By: Delia Marrero

I have grown as a person living in poverty, watching a system that creates a cycle of dependency with very few passages for escape. This system promotes stereotypes and generalizations. The conditions that are associated with poverty vary. It is set up in such a manner that children living in poverty receive a second-rate education based on their geographic location and eating sub-standard meals with little or no nutritional value. Neighborhoods lack resources, education rates are low and escape is rare. Low-income neighborhoods are clustered with individuals who have been born and raised in poverty. Every day is a struggle.

Poverty is a persistent aspect of human existence, of my existence. Riddled with inequality and strife, poverty has provided me with a unique set of personal conflicts that follow me throughout my life. I live just making ends meet on a daily basis while raising my children. I work fulltime and still can’t afford my own place to live. I am motivated by the desire to provide my children with better opportunities in life, but all too often I see that their opportunities are limited by my economic standing.

I am a high school dropout, a single teenage mother and a welfare recipient. I am employed, have earned an Associate’s degree and am a college student working towards a Bachelor’s degree – and I am poor. There are times when I am ashamed of myself. There are moments when I break down because I can’t get out of this persistent rut. It has made me feel as though my potential will always be overshadowed by my social standing. I feel the grip of poverty and it holds on tight.

I live in a world that casts aside potential based on economic status. I see people who are caged in their surroundings and left to their own devices.

I have always had a job, sometimes two, all while raising my daughters and going to school. For 10 years I have worked hard trying to do the right thing, and for 10 years poverty has broken my spirit and trampled my stride. Over the years I have seen my income increase but it has not increased enough to remove me from the clutches of poverty.

Education though has provided me with an effective tool to combat poverty. I have been able to increase my earning potential over the years through my education. I have opened my eyes to the injustices of poverty, the inequalities that affect communities and the harsh realities that many families live in. This is the life I have lived.

Poverty is exhausting, and it takes a lot of hard work, desire and persistence to break free from its grasp.

About the author:

Delia Marrero is a full-time employee at CACLV with the Weatherization program, which helps community members lower living costs by weatherizing homes through services such as furnace repairs, caulking, insulation and weather-stripping.