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Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank is preparing for a busy November

| Monday, Nov. 11, 2013, 12:16 a.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Dominic Zappa, 21, of Monroeville, sorts food to be distributed at the Homewood-Brushton YMCA on Saturday in Homewood. The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank distributed fresh produce to residents as part of its Produce to People Program.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
People line up along Kelly Street at the Homewood-Brushton YMCA on Saturday in Homewood, as the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank distributes fresh produce to residents as part of its Produce to People Program.

The cupboard is a little fuller at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank — just when it needs it the most.

The food bank raised $2.8 million from the public in fiscal year 2013, compared with more than $2.4 million in 2012. The value of donated food during that period rose $700,000.

“November is traditionally the month we distribute the most food out of every month of the year,” said Lisa Scales, CEO of the food bank. In 2012, for instance, the food bank gave away nearly 2.6 million pounds of food, more than any other month.

“People have little wiggle room in their budget, so the added demands of heating costs, the holidays, preparing a big meal, providing gifts put more demands on their budget,” she explained. “All of those added demands of the holidays make it that much more difficult for the families we serve.”

This marks Scales' first full year as CEO since assuming the post in August 2012. She joined the food bank 17 years ago, spending 10 as chief operations officer.

“I would say the stamp I've placed on the food bank so far has been to focus more of our resources on ensuring that people can feed themselves tomorrow and shortening the lines at our food pantries,” she said. Scales said the food bank will do that by partnering with more organizations — such as job-training agencies — that will help patrons get jobs so they are able to feed themselves.

“Not knowing where your next meal is coming from puts a lot of stress on families — parents especially,” she said. “We still see parents who choose to skip a meal so their children can eat, and we know there are senior citizens who have to make that hard choice between buying food or buying medicine.”

The Penguins will hold a food drive at Consol Energy Center on Wednesday. Westinghouse, Carnegie Mellon University and the West Mifflin Area School District will follow.

“We're normally around the 4,000-pound range for donations,” said Glenn Goug-ler, a history teacher who leads the West Mifflin food drive.

On Nov. 23, parents can take their children to the Holiday Market and Christmas Village in Market Square to have their photo taken with Santa Claus. The food bank will receive $5 for each photo.

Anne Hawkins, chief development officer of the food bank, said the organization raises about $8.4 million a year, which makes up about 60 percent of the food bank's annual budget. In fiscal 2014, the food bank's budget is $13.9 million.

“We have typically loyal donors. They know that food is critical here for the viability of the region,” she said.

The food bank is seeking not only food and cash, but volunteers.

“We need thousands,” Hawkins said. “We need elves with hats collecting money.”

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