There is no doubt that restaurants have been one of the hardest hit businesses during the pandemic. Food insecurity has also increased with so many families unemployed and facing challenging times. An innovative, collaborative project between 412 Food Rescue and Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership is combating both issues.
Through the joint venture, downtown restaurants prepare meals every weekday, which are then delivered by 412 Food Rescue volunteers to organizations serving those in need. Grant monies pay for the food and staff to prepare the meals, and the program is supported through funding from the Richard King Mellon Foundation and the City of Pittsburgh, according to Karin Manovich, member relations manager for the partnership, along with private donations.
This initiative is the second round of the Community Takeout program started last May by 412 Food Rescue. David Neimanis, partner experience manager for 412, said that the program ran for 10 weeks and resulted in more than 15,000 meals being served to those suffering from food insecurity.
“When the funding ran out, it was kind of a sunset for the program, and then we were approached by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. For this go-around, we are working with them and using independent restaurants located in the downtown region,” Neimanis said.
Manovich said that she read about the program and was intrigued.
“Downtown restaurants have been hit harder than even those in the suburbs; without having a large resident population, no tourists and so many work closures, our restaurants are really suffering,” she said. “This program is a lifeline for so many of them.”
This round of Community Takeout began in mid-December and will run through May, initially with nine downtown restaurants. Through the program, more than 1,200 meals are prepared each week and then Food Rescue Heroes—as 412 calls their volunteers—drive the meals to organizations who distribute them. Organizations taking part include Bethlehem Haven, Northview Heights Highrise, Shepherd’s Heart and Western Avenue Missionary, to name a few. The program will soon expand to serve homebound participants as well.
Manovich said that more restaurants will be added throughout the program, resulting in more meals prepared. “It’s a happy phone call to make,” she said, referring to when she notifies restaurants that they have been selected to participate.
Both Manovich and Neimanis hope the project will continue and expand. Already, 412 Food Rescue has received funding to host the project in another area of the region.
“People can make donations and designate if they want the funds to go to this project,” Neimanis said.
The Community Takeout program is a huge win-win for the Pittsburgh area.
“In my eyes, restaurants and small businesses are the cultural cornerstone that make Pittsburgh Pittsburgh. Without them, Pittsburgh would look a lot different,” Neimanis said, “This can help them get to the finish line in this long road.”
Both 412 Food Rescue and the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership have links on their websites for donations. 412 Food Rescue also has opportunities for volunteering.
For more information, visit https://412foodrescue.org or
https://charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/downtown-community-takeout. Those interested in volunteering can download the 412 Food Rescue app.
In addition to 412 Food Rescue, there are several food pantries in the North Hills region to help those suffering from food insecurity.
North Hills Community Outreach (NHCO) has three food pantry locations—Allison Park, Millvale, and Avalon. According to Director of Development Erica Cochran, NHCO serves 40 zip code areas in the North Hills region. Food items available include canned goods and other nonperishable food items, meat, fresh bread, desserts and produce, including items grown in NHCO’s organic garden.
“It is easy to receive assistance. You can call 412-487-6316, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit nhco.org/get-help to complete a simple form that helps us direct you to the right staff person to assist you,” Cochran explained.
Those who wish to assist NHCO with their efforts may donate food and items for their seasonal projects, as well as money and time. “Right now, we do have restrictions on volunteering due to COVID-19, but if you are interested in donating your time, please visit www.nhco.org/volunteer for more information,” said Cochran.
The need for the pantry is definitely there. Prior to the pandemic, NHCO served approximately 450 families a month. Now they serve almost 800.
“Since March 2020, we estimate that we have 350 brand new families. That increased even more over the holidays,” Cochran said.
The Lighthouse Foundation in Valencia serves Butler County and northern Allegheny County. Food Pantry Director Joe Franciscus said that they are currently utilizing a drive-through model due to COVID, providing food and other essential items. After clients are registered, they can pick up provisions with ID.
“We serve 250 to 300 people per week. That was up over the holidays, but it has leveled off,” he said. The Lighthouse accepts monetary, food and essential products (diapers, toiletries, etc.). Those interested in services or donating can visit www.thelighthousepa.org or call 724-586-5554.
“People need to know that there is no embarrassment or stigma. This is a judge-free zone—everyone goes through hard times, and that is why we are here to help and provide hope,” Franciscus said.
Bread of Life Food Pantry in Etna operates from Calvert Memorial Presbyterian Church as an outreach of local Presbyterian churches. Since 1989, the pantry has served residents of Shaler, Glenshaw, Etna, Sharpsburg, and Fox Chapel, but no one is refused food.
“If you are here and you are hungry, we will help you,” said Pantry Manager Alexis Weber. They typically serve 150 families once a month plus provide emergency food services. “This has been a year like no other; in a good way as well, because we have had more donations than ever before,” Weber said. For more information, call 412-781-3056 or visit www.facebook.com/boletna.
Society of St. Vincent DePaul Council of Pittsburgh oversees a food pantry located in Sharpsburg through the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. According to Barbara George, the president of the conference, they serve those who live in the Fox Chapel Area School District. Those who need services or wish to donate food, money and services can call 412-781-2866. This location operates out of St. Mary Church.
The Allison Park Church hosts food banks in several locations including Hampton, Butler and Deer Lakes. Currently, they serve prepackaged boxes. Pre-registration is not necessary, but those wishing to reach out in advance can visit www.networkofhope.org. Those wishing to help should visit www.allisonparkchurch.com.