Food banks brace for busy season
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The challenge is starting in earnest for food banks in southwestern Pennsylvania.
"The winter is the busiest season every year. With the holidays, people are trying to provide a decent meal for their families," said Iris Valanti, director of communications for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
Meanwhile, food banks face increased heating bills as temperatures drop in addition to rising prices in general.
"One of the things we're noticing as a trend in the last few years is that during the holidays, you see more people," said Jennifer Miller, development director for Westmoreland County Food Bank Inc. The food bank helps many to make ends meet, she said.
And while the numbers of people needing help might dip a bit when spring arrives, they remain on an upward trajectory overall.
"Unfortunately, our numbers are growing monthly," said Lisa Nuccetelli, executive director of Greater Washington County Food Bank. "With the downturn in the economy starting five or six years ago, I've seen a 90 percent increase in clients."
Food banks also face some difficulties.
Ms. Miller said her organization relies on fundraising to a much greater degree to offset cuts in state and federal money that have occurred since 2010.
"The Westmoreland County community has always been very generous with the food bank," she said.
Through those types of efforts, the food bank was able to provide $10 vouchers toward turkeys for about 7,400 families before Thanksgiving. As the end of the year approaches, the plan is to provide other holiday-specific items, such as sauerkraut, a traditional "good luck" dish, for New Year's Day.
Vouchers for turkey or ham will be included with the monthly distributions at the Greater Washington County Food Bank's 38 pantries, along with related items such as gravy, stuffing and cranberry sauce.
"Donations usually are higher during the holiday seasons, and it's a tremendous help," Ms. Nuccetelli said.
She also cited cuts in state funding: "It gets rough. If it weren't for the donations, we wouldn't be able to do what we do."
The Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank steps up its food drives during the final quarter of the year in anticipation of greater demand. For the most part, the drives have been successful.
"The holidays are kind of devoted to eating. As you sit down to your feast, you can't help but think about others who don't have that opportunity," Ms. Valanti said.
"Donating money goes further than [donating] food," she explained, "because we have wholesale buying power. Every dollar turns into $5 worth of goods and services. People can really do a lot of good with a relatively modest donation."
For more information about services provided in the region:
• Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, 1 N. Linden St., Duquesne; 412-460- 3663; www.pittsburghfoodbank.org
• Greater Washington County Food Bank, 1020 Route 519, Eighty Four; 724-229-8175; www.gwcfb.org
• Westmoreland County Food Bank, 100 Devonshire Drive, Delmont; 724-468-8660; www.westmorelandfoodbank.org
First Published November 29, 2012 4:52 am