But the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board 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 Sept. 17 and Oct. 1.
“It’s a number that resonates around here,” Bowman said. “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’s 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 are 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.
“Montgomery County is the third-richest county in the state,” said Tamela Luce, Senior Program Officer. “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 it hits every community in our county.”
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.