Instead of driving the 60 bags of canned goods and other food donations to the food pantry at the Northside Common Ministries, the dozen or so members of the Allegheny Unitarian Universalist Church youth group decided to walk the half mile to the pantry, lugging the load in wheelbarrows and shopping carts Sunday.
"When they came, I said to the kids, 'You know it's raining and ... we do have a van. You could load up the food in the van,' " said Michael Glass, the director of Northside Common Ministries. "They said, 'No we prefer to walk.' Their commitment to the food pantry is tremendous."
The caravan of kids made two trips, with little reprieve from the steady pounding of rain. The youth group organized this year's food drive, passing out fliers and organizing the donations.
The exercise was meant to draw attention to the plight of those in their own neighborhood, many of whom are served by Northside Common Ministries, and hopefully to encourage others to donate food. And compared to the struggles that those served by the food pantry face every day, it was a small gesture.
"We're in the neighborhood, and there are a lot of social justice issues," said Tiffany Merriman-Preston, the director of the church youth group. "It is very easy for people to drive right through and ignore the problems of the neighborhood."
Though it was arduous and a little uncomfortable, 15-year-old Zoe Tager said it helped the group feel the weight of their accomplishment -- literally.
"It ... is a little more meaningful when you push it all the way there," she said, brushing the soaking wet hair away from her face.
Mr. Glass said the massive donation comes at a critical time for the food pantry, which has seen more new clients than in past years. Typically, about 6 to 7 percent of the 600 or 620 clients the pantry serves are new. In the past year, that number has jumped to 11 percent, meaning more families are experiencing the kind of financial insecurity that forces them to seek the pantry's help.
And, said Mr. Glass, his food stocks are lower than they've been in the past two years, making him anxious about the flood of clients he's anticipating for the holiday season. Exacerbating the situation, monetary donations have fallen off.
Zoe said that she's seen the impact of the recession in her own life. Her family's had to tighten its belt and her friend's home was foreclosed. She said she imagines the need for those who were struggling before is much greater now.
"I know that there are some families who have been struggling," she said. "The stuff about the economy, especially when you know someone who's had a rough time, it definitely brings it a lot closer to you."
To find out how to donate to the Northside Common Ministries food pantry, call 412-323-1170.
Moriah Balingit: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2533.