North Side group aids food pantry

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Every fall, the Northside Common Ministry's food pantry staff and volunteers issue the alarm of shortage. A weak economy and public funding cuts fuel the perennial spike in need for food and volunteers. But this year's dynamic includes the closing of 15 food pantries in Allegheny County, including one on the North Side.

To pull the pantry out of regular crisis mode, a clutch of Central North Siders has begun meeting to create a system to maintain the flow of food and volunteers using Amazon, Pay Pal, Google scheduling and inventory spreadsheets. The group seeks technical help to launch a website before the crush leading up to Thanksgiving. Anyone with interest can contact Northside Common Ministries executive director Jay Poliziani at

"We realize they have a need 12 months a year and that the need is growing," said Darlene Durrwachter Rushing, the advisory group's volunteer coordinator. "We are just a neighborhood gathering of folks right now, saying we don't want any of our neighbors going hungry.

"Our resources are our brain power and our connections in addition to labor, food and monetary donations. We want to harness our resources and put them to work."

Several neighbors are organizing food drives through their businesses in anticipation of the upcoming holidays, she said.

More than a dozen small North Side nonprofits distribute food bank supplies one day a month, but the food pantry at Northside Common Ministries, 1601 Brighton Road, is open three days every week and distributes food to about 1,000 people a month. It is one of the largest recipients of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

The food pantry is open to serve and accept donations from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Mr. Poliziani said 80 percent of the pantry's inventory comes from the Food Bank, "and each year [client] demand increases around the holidays by 30 to 40 percent. Churches and community groups kick in more in the fall, but it's still not enough to cover demand. We will depend on food drives and donations."

"We're thrilled" about the advisory group, he said. "It's full of talented people who will be able to help us sustain."

The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank's closures -- including the Pressley Street Hi-Rise Food Pantry on the North Side -- were based on its own budget cuts and the decision to reallocate some supplies to underserved rural areas, said Lisa Scales, the food bank's CEO.

The food bank serves 120,000 people per month and provides 27.4 million pounds of food a year. It distributes to 692 food assistance programs in 11 counties, 425 of them in Allegheny County. Its budget this year is $13.9 million after losing more than $400,000 in federal, state and local funds, Ms. Scales said.

Charlese McKinney, the Food Bank's network development director, said the food that went to the Pressley Street Hi-Rise will be divided between the Northside Common Ministries and the Salvation Army.

"We are asking larger pantries to take on more people so we can open pantries in other areas," she said.

The Northside Common Ministries began growing raised bed gardens to supplement the produce it offers clients this year, Mr. Poliziani said. "Our goal is to get food pantry families to sign up for a box to grow their own food."

Ms. Scales said food insecurity across 11 counties the Food Bank serves will be exacerbated when funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act expires Nov. 1.

"More than 333,000 individuals in our 11-county service area will be affected. The impact is a loss of nearly $3 million per month, so we're concerned there will be greater reliance on pantries and emergency food resources."

Some people will decide among rent, medicine and food, she said, "and we feel we will see families newly in need."

"I love to hear" about the response of North Side residents, she said, "because we count on the community to come together to help solve the problem of hunger. It is a solvable problem."

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Diana Nelson Jones: or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at


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