Voices of the East End
By Erin Simard
On the morning of Saturday, June 26, the community came together in Wilkinsburg underneath the scorching sun to operate a food distribution for local families.
The distribution event was sponsored by the Sri Venkateswara Temple (S.V. Temple), a Hindu temple located in the Penn Hills, in honor of the sacred Maha Kumbhaabhishekam ritual. Volunteers from the temple also helped distribute boxes of produce, dairy, and shelf-stable foods.
During the distribution, we talked to a few community members who shared their stories with us.
Nikki made the trek from her residence in Penn Hills to the food distribution. Prior to the pandemic, Nikki held a career providing social services. However, her employment was interrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Facing an abrupt and significant change in her lifestyle, Nikki initially tried to support herself by finding alternative employment. “It’s really interesting because while it seems that so many people are hiring, that’s not necessarily the case. I interviewed for hundreds of jobs before I got an offer – [even] at Target, Walmart. They would tell me that I was overqualified and that they would get back to me.”
Having the opportunity to receive food at distributions from the Food Bank has allowed her to steadily stabilize and readjust in the face of challenges brought on by the pandemic. “When I come here, I don’t have to use the cash that I have to purchase food… I’m able to pay a little bit back on my electric bills and utility bills.”
When she first lost her job, Nikki struggled to get help with food through public programs such as SNAP. “I applied [for SNAP benefits] earlier on when I lost my job. I applied, but even though I wasn’t getting money right then, they based it on [the compensation] I had received [during my previous job] so I was not eligible.”
If she could impart any words of wisdom upon those who find themselves in a similar position, she would encourage them to, “just do it. Come out here. I know the long lines can be intimidating. Sometimes people are shameful and, in the beginning, I felt like, ‘Okay, I can hold on a little longer because someone needs it more than me.’ And I didn’t want to take food from somebody who was maybe worse off than me, but I just finally did it.”
Nikki adds, “And I think that people should kind of get over the stigma of what some people consider handouts. That this is what this is for. It’s for people who are like me that have given and given and given for many, many years and just fell into [this space of food insecurity] because of COVID.”
Mark and Ron
Mark, a veteran donning a U.S. Army cap, explains that attending an occasional food distribution has often saved them from “going without lights and heat.”
The on-going health risk posed by the pandemic has left Mark unemployed, and he anticipates that this will endure for at least a little while longer.
“Once herd immunity [is reached], I would feel safe to return to work because I work in a hospital environment where [treating those infected with the virus] is center stage. There’s COVID all over hospitals, and I have emphysema and COPD, and I can’t afford to catch it.”
To the people who make these contactless distributions possible, their message is simple.
“Thank you, you are wonderful and we appreciate it.”
Dan and Trudy
Dan and Trudy are from Penn Hills, and for a year and a half, they have been limiting their human interaction.
Trudy shares, “We both have medical problems, so we’re fearful going out. We’ve locked ourselves down.”
The pair haven’t even been able to visit with family.
“We’ve only seen our family through the glass door. Up until about a month ago, we both got our shots, but are still very hesitant of people who don’t have their shots, even family.”
The food they receive from the Food Bank helps them make the ends meet.
“This is stuff that would have to come out of our money that we don’t have”
Our neighbors like Nikki, Mark, Ron, Dan and Trudy will continue to rely on help with food until they are back on their feet. With your support, we will continue to be there until every one of our neighbors has enough food for today, tomorrow and a lifetime.