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Food pantry opens in Duquesne City Education Center

| Tuesday, April 27, 2010, 12:00 p.m.

For Barbara Arnold, coupons haven't been enough to offset the rising cost of food.

So she made a trip to Duquesne.

The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank on Monday opened a model food pantry in the Duquesne City Education Center.

Opening the pantry in a school might be more convenient for families, many of whom have parents who can only spare time to get food when they drop off and pick up their children, food bank CEO Joyce Rothermel said.

The food bank serves about 105,000 people in an 11-county area in Southwestern Pennsylvania. But food bank officials estimate about 2,500 new families need food each month and that only 15 percent of those eligible to receive food from food banks actually get it.

"The fact is .... the need is growing faster than our ability to respond," Rothermel said. "We need to explore more of these kinds of avenues."

Principal Davaun Barnett said the on-campus food pantry can ease the financial burdens on families. All 472 of the school's students qualify for free lunch.

Rothermel said the food bank would spend the rest of the year studying the center's traffic to gauge Duquesne's needs and see whether the concept can be replicated elsewhere.

Yesterday was Arnold's first visit to a food bank, although money has been tight for several months.

She lives in Clairton, but her daughter, also named Barbara, lives in Duquesne and qualified to get food from the pantry.

The elder Arnold retired from a government cleaning job in 1997, and her husband is weeks from doing the same. Social Security is getting them by.

Arnold and her daughter packed the back seat and trunk of her car with about 100 pounds of bread, potatoes, chicken and ham. She hopes the food can last a couple weeks.

Their food has to support both women, their spouses, four other adult family members and six children, ages 5 months to 7 years.

"Everything has gone up," Arnold said, referring to food prices. "How do they expect people to survive when everything has gotten so expensive?"

Barnett said the pantry is the first step toward a larger plan of transforming the school into a sort of community center, one that eventually will offer public fitness programs, classes for senior citizens and parenting courses.

"We recognize there's a need for all these kinds of services," Barnett said. "Providing food is just the first step."

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