Following the partial shutdown of the federal government, the Food Bank joined with sister food banks across the country to provide a variety of pop-up food pantries to assist federal workers and anyone else affected by the shutdown.
Our Immediate Response to the Shutdown
In only two weeks, the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank quickly mobilized to prepare more than 15 tons of fresh produce, grocery items and household staples for the various pop-up food pantries that we organized. As we identified pockets of need, we added distributions that were near where federal employees were working without pay.
Special distributions and households served
- MLK Day at Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank: 27 households
- Pittsburgh International Airport: 300 households
- Allegheny County Airport: 25 households
- Federal Corrections Institution-Loretto (Cambria County): 260 households
- 1/24 at Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank: 68 households
- 1/30 at David L. Lawrence Convention Center: 104 households
Total: 784 households
We also increased the amount of food we sent to our Produce to People distributions. And we continue to closely monitor demand from our agency network.
What We Are Seeing Now
The shutdown affected more than 20,000 federal employees in our region and their families (an estimated 46,000 people). But, the shutdown continues harm more than just federal employees. Individuals who received February Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in January were asked to stretch those dollars longer. We know that many families are now struggling to get through February. We are hearing, anecdotally, from our agencies that they are seeing increased numbers of visitors. We have been asking people who are coming to the Food Bank for emergency food through our Compassion Corner. When asked what brought them in for food, many families are telling us they were confused or worried by the early release of benefits.
Compassion Corner families who needed emergency food because of early SNAP benefit release
- January 14, 2019 – January 18, 2019: 26 Households
- January 21, 2019 – January 25, 2019: 31 Households
- January 28, 2019 – February 1, 2019: 17 Households
- February 4, 2019 – February 8, 2019 40 Households
- February 11, 2019 – February 15, 2019: 29 Households
Total : 145 Households
We expect to see continuing effects for SNAP recipients throughout February and in to early March.
As we continue to assess the effects of the shutdown and our response, we are struck by the reality of episodic poverty. We hear stories from many hard-working neighbors every day. Neighbors who suddenly find themselves unable to make ends meet because they are just one medical bill, unexpected car repair, or – as we have just seen – missed paycheck away from financial problems that could put everything at risk. If faced with a $400 emergency expense, 40% of American adults would either need to borrow money, sell something, or not be able to make that payment. (Read the full release from the Federal Reserve Board here.
Throughout our history, the Food Bank has shifted to serve different groups of people who need us. We began with a focus on serving homeless men in the urban core. Then, we shifted to help hundreds of thousands who were unemployed after the collapse of the steel industry. Now, we must continue to innovate and find new and efficient ways to meet the needs of the underemployed and those who struggle with episodic need. With support from our community, we know we can rise to meet the need.
In the midst of mobilizing our response to the shutdown, the Food Bank received welcome good news that shows our community is committed to helping us address food insecurity in new ways. An anonymous local foundation awarded the Food Bank $1 Million to increase our technology capacity and make vital technology upgrades. This support allow us to invest in systems that will transform the Food Bank and our member network.
The past few months have been challenging. Thank you for reaching out with words of encouragement and shows of support.