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North Hills Community Outreach expands presence in Bellevue facility

| Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Jay Evans, member of the North Hills Community Outreach Board of Directors, talks to attendees of an open house at the offices inside Allegheny General Hospital Suburban campus Tuesday, July 30, 2013.

What might seem like nothing more than a hallway storage and supply closet at the Allegheny General Hospital Suburban campus in Bellevue can offer a sense of hope for families struggling to meet basic needs, said Jay Evans, a board member for North Hills Community Outreach.

The North Hills-based nonprofit group that provides assistance to families in need last week showed off its new space inside the Bellevue medical facility that's part of the Allegheny Health Network.

While the new digs aren't flashy, the space serves an important role in helping families meet their basic needs of obtaining food, paying bills and receiving support in tough times, Evans said.

“This room — although maybe not the nicest of the rooms we have — is the most important room in this expansion,” he said.

“It was difficult to have private, dignified meetings (with clients).”

The nonprofit serves families across the North Hills and Sewickley Valley, with much of the resources coming from the satellite office in Bellevue.

The regional hospital system offers space throughout the building for $1 a month, North Hills Community Outreach executive director Fay Morgan said.

That's important for an organization dependent upon donations from churches, businesses and private donors, she said.

Along with financial assistance, the organization provides a food-pantry program that serves, on average, 60 or 70 families per month, food pantry coordinator Brandi Rukovena said.

While the pantry offers the usual nonperishable goods, it also receives fresh produce from a variety of business donors and from a garden the nonprofit oversees a few blocks from the Bellevue offices.

“I'd rather give people really good organic food than a jar of peanut butter. We work really hard to get the fresh stuff that we do,” Rukovena said. “It's amazing the amount of produce we get.”

The garden offers about 3,000 pounds of produce. It is weeded and tended to by an array of volunteers, coordinator Mel Cronin said.

While nonperishable goods mostly come prepackaged for clients, produce can be hand picked, Rukovena said.

“It's a really cool way to teach families and kids about food,” Rukovena said.

To determine who benefits from the food pantry and other services offered, the organization mostly follows government guidelines for low-income families, she said — but not always.

“Unfortunately, what happens on paper isn't always what happens in life,” said Rukovena, noting that emergency situations can arise that causer families to need help.

For Morgan, the organization serves as a “conduit” for people to help others in their community.

“It's important for us to take care of our neighbors,” she said. “That's something you can't necessarily do directly.

“(North Hills Community Outreach is) very important because it's a safety net for people who fall on hard times. Every community has someone who needs help.”

Both Morgan and Evans said the organization serves at least one person in every northern suburb in which the group works.

“People think of northern Allegheny County as wealthy suburbs, but there are people out there with needs,” Evans said. “This is invaluable.”

Bobby Cherry is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or rcherry@tribweb.com.

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