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Sewickley church committed to helping put food on local tables

| Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, 8:53 p.m.
Sewickley Herald
Volunteer Donald Johnson of Coraopolis puts bags of potatoes into a car during Truimph Baptist Church's Tender Lovin' Food program Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012. Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald

Triumph Baptist Church has been providing groceries at a discount since 1989 simply to serve the community, leaders say.

The Sewickley church runs its own Tender Lovin' Food ministry, usually on the fourth Saturday of every month.

About 55 to 60 people participate each month, about 20 of whom are sponsored by the church. Each “unit” of groceries is $23 and many times includes fresh fruit and vegetables.

“It's a big help for people who need to stretch their food budget,” said Lois Rush, a church member who helps with the ministry.

Those who wish to buy the food or those who are sponsored by the church usually must sign up by the second Saturday of the month. However, as it was this month, in December the food will be distributed on the third Saturday so that people can get groceries in time for the holidays.

Participants on Saturday received everything for a Thanksgiving dinner. Seventy turkeys with all the trimmings were distributed.

The next sign up deadline is Dec. 8 for the month's groceries, which will include a ham for a Christmas dinner and be distributed on Dec. 15.

When the cost for a unit of groceries goes over $23, Rush said patrons still will pay the same amount, and the church picks up the rest.

“You couldn't get this amount of food at the grocery store for $23,” said Rush, who along with Evelyn Lee, does a lot of the paperwork, ordering, packing, setting up and distributing for the program.

About 10 other volunteers help each month.

One is Bob Liggett, church deacon, who volunteers to try to keep costs as low as possible.

He has been involved in the program since he joined the church in 1990.

“It's all about establishing relationships with the people in the store,” he said.

“Sometimes they will give us a break on the cost. Even if they give 25 cents off, for 50 to 70 people, that adds up to dollars,” he said.

Liggett starts his research after the last bag of groceries is distributed each month. He checks circulars and makes deals with store managers and meat department managers.

He said, at times, he comes across a sale he doesn't want to let slip away, but it's too early and ends before he can purchase it in time for the next distribution. So many times, the store managers will hold the sale price for him and hold the items at the store until he is ready to pick them up.

He said the small church has only so much storage space, so he picks up many of the items on distribution day.

Anyone can participate. There are no income, location or church requirements.

And, people really appreciate it, Rush said. A few months ago, she said many participants kept commenting on how amazed they were at all the fresh food Liggett was able to purchase, such as broccoli, cauliflower, eggs, potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes.

Rush, along with Lee and Rob Davis, has been with the program since the beginning.

Emanuel Wilson, an associate minister at the church at the time, had suggested the idea of a food share.

The Rev. Craig Giles thought it was a good idea.

Triumph Baptist began participating as part of the National Food Share, then later with Tri State Food Share until it moved its Ambridge warehouse to North Versailles.

Church members decided to start their own program in the early 1990s with help from Deacon Deray Cole, who since has moved to North Carolina, and the late Terry Long, a former church member and former Pittsburgh Steelers player, who named the program and worked with food vendors through his restaurant business.

It's a big job, Rush said, but he manages to get it all done and deliver the food to the church on time.

“Bob does a really good job,” Rush said.

Liggett gave credit to the grocery stores' staff.

“They really have embraced what we do here,” he said.

“It helps adds to our success to provide more for less.”

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or jbarron@tribweb.com.

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