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Mon-Yough food banks struggle to meet need as state budget impasse drags on

| Friday, Dec. 11, 2015, 5:11 a.m.
Families turn out for a Produce to People program Thursday at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank in Duquesne.
Patrick Cloonan | Trib Total Media
Families turn out for a Produce to People program Thursday at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank in Duquesne.
Volunteers Sue Auth and Rita Stallard of West Mifflin hand out bananas and other produce to families that can get 30 to 50 pounds of food during a Produce to People event.
Patrick Cloonan | Trib Total Media
Volunteers Sue Auth and Rita Stallard of West Mifflin hand out bananas and other produce to families that can get 30 to 50 pounds of food during a Produce to People event.
Cabbages are part of the variety of fruits and vegetables available at Produce to People events held by Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank at 17 locations.
Patrick Cloonan | Trib Total Media
Cabbages are part of the variety of fruits and vegetables available at Produce to People events held by Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank at 17 locations.

Despite a state budget impasse now in its sixth month, some things continue, such as hunger.

Locally, Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank in Duquesne is hanging on despite a lack of state funds.

“We're doing the best we can given the circumstances,” said Donald Lutovsky, the food bank's chief financial officer. “We certainly wish that they would resolve the budget so we can get the funding we need to continue our programs.”

However, Westmoreland County Food Bank in Delmont said it may have to cut back because of a “perfect storm” of diminished donations and an empty faucet of funds from Harrisburg.

“We know that this is a very difficult time in our world and we are here doing our best to help our neighbors in need, but we have had to make the tough decision to begin reducing the amount of food that is given until we receive the funds from the state,” Westmoreland CEO Kris Douglas said in a press release this week.

Many depend on the food banks, as was displayed Thursday night, when parking spaces were hard to find outside the Greater Pittsburgh facility in the Regional Industrial Development Corp.'s City Center of Duquesne.

Hundreds of families arrived for a Produce to People event, which offers 30 to 50 pounds of produce to qualified families.

“It's a standard item people don't normally buy in the grocery store,” said Tamara Kilgore, the Duquesne-based food bank's director of marketing and communications.

The free distributions of fresh fruits and vegetables happen in 17 Western Pennsylvania locations each month, including the food bank in Duquesne and Founders' Hall Middle School in McKeesport.

“You like bananas?” volunteer Sue Auth of West Mifflin asked a youngster. “Me, too.”

The Bechtel Marine Propulsion Corp. employee was handing out produce with co-worker Rita Stallard of West Mifflin.

Bechtel workers, University of Pittsburgh faculty and staff, Sisters of the Holy Spirit from St. Agnes School in West Mifflin and members of the youth service organization Venturing Crew 90 volunteered.

Jack Buncher Foundation provided hot chocolate and cookies handed out by food bank employees.

“It's just to give an extra treat during the holidays,” foundation employee William Doring said.

Beci Russell, the food bank's community engagement and volunteer coordinator, said 625 families were expected Thursday in Duquesne, but the number can range between 600 and 900.

Lutovsky said the Greater Pittsburgh food bank has “strong community support and as long as we continue to get donations we will be able to purchase this food even though we don't have the state funds.”

The food bank normally spends $137,000 a month provided from state coffers, and so far has spent $800,000 that has not been reimbursed.

“When the budget didn't pass (by the start of the fiscal year on July 1), I didn't expect this would go more than a couple months,” Lutovsky said.

However, other channels remain open, including money and food donations from the federal government, and private donors.

“We are using funds we are getting through our contributions,” Lutovsky said. “We are at our primary donation period right now so we get more than in the normal cycle of donation periods.”

The Greater Pittsburgh food bank has extended credit to some of its network of pantries and local food banks that haven't been able to make ends meet.

Westmoreland County Food Bank isn't as fortunate, reporting that annual Thanksgiving and Christmas donations are down substantially, while a record-breaking number of households continues to seek help.

The Westmoreland organization's CEO said more than 16,500 individuals benefit from food distributed to more than 60 agencies throughout his county.

“We have taken from our reserves to continue to provide the quality and quantity of services for our consumers, but at this point, we just can't keep up,” Douglas said.

Douglas said the Westmoreland County Food Bank takes pride in being able to provide a substantial food package, but in January items to be cut will include one canned vegetable item, spaghetti sauce, spaghetti, shelf-stable milk and potatoes.

Douglas said he hopes the food bank doesn't have to cut further.

In Duquesne, the Greater Pittsburgh food bank is looking ahead to leaner days.

“As we get past the holidays, (the flow of contributions) traditionally begins to taper,” Lutovsky said. “The significant amount of cash that was not received (from Harrisburg) will certainly begin to hurt more and more as time goes by.”

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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