Update: Friday, May 15, 2020 (noon)
By Lisa Scales
Today marks exactly two months since we began our COVID-19 response. March 15th was supposed to be the 25th anniversary of our Empty Bowls event, which we unfortunately had to postpone due to recommendations at the time of limiting gatherings to 250 people or less. Little did we know that 250 would soon become 50, then 20, then 10. And, while the past two months have been a challenge not only to our organization, but our way of life in general, today’s two-month mark also now becomes our transition from red to yellow.
Moving from the red phase into the yellow one will change some lives greatly, while others will hardly notice a difference. Childcare centers can open in the yellow phase, but bars and restaurants may still only offer pick up or delivery options. Gatherings of up to 25 people are allowed in yellow areas and retail stores with exterior entrances can open, but indoor malls cannot, and manufacturers can get back to work as long as they follow a strict set of guidelines to guard the health of their employees. Most entertainment venues, aside from golf courses and fishing marinas, will not open in the yellow phase, and youth, team, and individual sports cannot start, either.
As for the Food Bank, our response and operations will remain the same. We will continue to practice strict social distancing, while taking every precaution to protect the health and well-being of our staff, volunteers and those we serve in the community. Our commitment to our mission is now stronger than ever; feeding people in need and mobilizing our community to eliminate hunger. And while some subtle, yet positive steps to “normal” life as we knew it begin to happen, our expectations as an organization will only increase. We anticipate a continued increase in the demand for food while people deal with unemployment, financial hardship and other variables outside of their control.
So, when does normal return? The Food Bank anticipates and is preparing to serve an increased need for at least the next 12 to 18 months. Moving from red to yellow is one small step for society. Moving to green will be a marathon’s worth of steps. And even when we get the proverbial green light, the residual effects of this pandemic will remain for a long time. Just how long remains to be seen, but we will be here for our neighbors every step of the way.
Our staff continues to shine bright throughout this storm. Here is a look at some of the great work they have done over the past two months.
- Tomorrow (May 16), we will host our 21st drive-up food distribution at South Hills Village Mall. At some point during the event we will officially hand out our ONE MILLIONTH pound of food from these drive-up distributions over the past 9 weeks. Up to this point, we have averaged more than 950 vehicles served and 50,000 pounds of food distributed at each drive-up event.
- As of today, our Doorstep Delivery program has provided 2,261 residences a total of 56,525 pounds of food. As an organization, we are excited to see this program evolve in real time!
- To date, our COVID concierge team has fielded more than 4,000 calls since the call service was established on March 19.
- Compassion Corner, our emergency food assistance program on site here at the Food Bank, has provided food to more than 2,800 families since March 18. This is a more than 500% increase from prior COVID-19 response.
- In exactly one month, the new COVID Community Organization program has allocated 6,760 boxes to 62 NEW organizations since April 13.
- To make all this possible, our operations department has been phenomenal. From drivers to warehouse/repack workers and maintenance staff to the facilities team, without them we would not be able to sustain our output of food to those who need it most. During the past two months we have packed more than 120,000 emergency food boxes!
- We submitted 135 SNAP applications and had an 81% approval rating for Allegheny County in March.
- We continue to update the list/map of Grab and Go sites as participation is not slowing down at these sites. We are also finalizing awards of the Summer Impact Grants to organizations next week and are also preparing delivery of marketing materials to partners for schools to electronically market the Summer Youth Cafe.
- We now directly oversee 19 Grab and Go sites in Homewood, Blawnox, Sharpsburg, Hazelwood, Northside, Clairton, East Pittsburgh, Duquesne, Moon Township, Verona, Penn Hills, Rankin and McKeesport. As of last Friday, these sites have served more than 41,000 meals to date.
In some other great sourcing news, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) new Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) is providing much needed relief to those facing food insecurity in the form of an estimated two million pounds of produce over the next six weeks. More information will be announced next week about this exciting partnership.
Through our government and advocacy efforts, since the onset of our COVID-19 response efforts, the Food Bank has been allocated $5.2M in food and funds from the Federal government; $119K from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; $500,000 from Allegheny County and $500,000 from the City of Pittsburgh. The Commonwealth has also supported our repack and distribution efforts by providing Pennsylvania National Guard and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation personnel to assist. The Commonwealth and USDA have eliminated client paperwork requirements for distribution of TEFAP and SFPP food. We are so grateful for this support.
This is just a snapshot of the work we continue to do during these challenging times. All this could not be done without the tireless efforts of our staff and volunteers. Each of them has gone above and beyond the call of duty. As an organization, our donors have answered the call to action and have enabled us to continue our mission during this critical time. Every dollar goes such a long way in helping us get food to people. $1 can provide enough food for up to 5 meals. And, with an expected increase in demand over the next year or longer, these donations are extremely critical. We look forward to continuing serving those in need of food assistance in southwestern Pennsylvania during the crisis and beyond.
President & CEO