Food banks carry on mission while enduring new challenges
The area's food banks are coming to the close of what one official called a challenging year.
Less money is available from federal and state sources, food prices are rising and more households are seeking the services of Westmoreland County Food Bank in Delmont and Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank in Duquesne.
“We are helping 2,500 to 3,000 new households on average every month,” said Anne Hawkins, chief development officer for the Duquesne food bank.
“We have had a very challenging year because of funding cuts, primarily,” outgoing Westmoreland CEO Marlene Kozak said. “We are serving 1,000 more households a month than we did three years ago.”
Since Nov. 1, the Westmoreland food bank has been transitioning from Kozak to new CEO Kris M. Douglas, a Norwin High School alumnus who takes over Dec. 31.
Westmoreland's food bank has a $3.4 million budget, more than $2 million of which is drawn from fundraising.
“In 2000, 10 percent was acquired through our own fundraising and now it is 60 percent,” Kozak said. “We also had to replace our roof and our freezer, which came to $400,000, and we did not get the funding that we requested.”
Kozak said the state food purchase program has been cut by more than $143,000 over the past three years. The federal emergency food and shelter program that used to supply $150,000 is down to just over $11,000.
Westmoreland County's Human Service Development Fund, which had been providing $100,000, is down to $20,000.
“Luckily, the Westmoreland County community has been very supportive of us, but it is a crapshoot,” Kozak said. “The last quarter is when most of the money comes in. We were running a big deficit all year long. We finally started to turn things around in October.”
The Delmont food bank also has been forced to reduce what's handed out to the needy.
“We have had to cut the size of our food boxes from 70 pounds down to maybe 50 pounds because of the increased cost of food and the increased need,” Kozak said.
Boxes still include meat, pasta and sauce, canned items and foods such as macaroni and cheese.
“That is not something we want to do,” Kozak said, “but we have had to do that for the past three months and will have to do that for the foreseeable future.”
All of that is for a food bank covering one county. The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank serves 11.
“As the economic downturn lingers, many families who were once our donors are now our clients,” Greater Pittsburgh's CEO Lisa Scales wrote in an email last week.
“Families who once helped make wishes come true are now the very ones wishing for a real holiday meal to share with their loved ones.”
Scales, a former chief operating officer at the Duquesne food bank, succeeded Jermaine Husser in August.
“Over my 16 years at the food bank I have learned that adversity can have its benefits,” Scales wrote. “It can bring out the best in people.”
Hawkins said the number of those seeking help seems “pretty close to where it was last year. Even though many people in our community have made it through the recession, there still are people who are left behind.”
She said requests for help come even from higher-income neighborhoods.
“A lot of people were laid off since 2008 and their savings are gone,” Hawkins said.
In her email appeal, Scales said “every $1 you give will help us supply five meals to hungry children in our region.”
The Greater Pittsburgh food bank also is seeking aid through other venues, including an annual holiday telethon Thursday from 4-8 p.m. on WPXI.
Those who patronize the Peoples Gas Holiday Market in downtown Pittsburgh's Market Square through Dec. 23 can get a picture with Santa for a donation to the food bank of cash or canned food.
Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or firstname.lastname@example.org.