Hot soup in Aliquippa
Growing Demand in Western PA’s
Food Pantries and Soup Kitchens
By Patti Conley
Beaver County Times
Dec. 11, 2010 – Seven days a week, anyone who is hungry can sit down at a soup kitchen somewhere in Beaver County. No questions asked.
A community schedule of meals, available online at http://www.bccan.org., lists the times when the 15 meals are available in churches from Beaver Falls to Aliquippa.
Such soup kitchens became a staple in the region 25 years ago when the steel industry stopped nourishing the area’s economy. Since then, soup kitchens and food pantries have filled food gaps for the chronically poor who are without jobs, benefits and money, and for those whose Social Security, disability and welfare benefits don’t stretch through the end of each month.
That was until recent months, when soup kitchen and food pantry staff said they began to see new faces at their tables and new names on food pantry applications, which are governed by income guidelines.
The nation’s rocky economy has delivered a direct blow to some middle-class Joes and Janes here in the Beaver Valley. An increase in local food pantry recipients brings home that point.
Three years ago, the 12 food pantries and three feeding sites in the Salvation Army’s countywide food distribution network provided food staples to 1,200 to 1,500 eligible households each month, said Maj. Richard Lyle, Salvation Army commander and Beaver County coordinator.
Over the last two years, that monthly figure has steadily increased to about 2,500 households and, if the economy remains stagnant, could pass 3,000 households per month sometime next year, Lyle said.
Similarly, since August 2008, the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, which serves an 11-county region in southwestern Pennsylvania, including Beaver County, has added 2,500 households each month to its food pantry program, said Iris Valenti, the food bank’s communications director.
As of last January, the program helped an average of 106,000 people each month. Currently, it serves 120,000.
“People are being forced to make hard decisions and very difficult choices. Do they pay bills, or do they buy food?” Lyle said.
Some have lost jobs and are eking by on unemployment benefits and savings while changing food choices. For many, employers are scaling back jobs from 40 hours a week to 30, Lyle said. “That makes a huge difference,” he said.
Folks who have never filled out an application for food are doing so now.
“It’s a difficult process to go through if you have never had to ask before,” Lyle said. He urges people who believe they don’t meet the income guidelines to call or visit.
“The Salvation Army is very generous when it comes to the income guidelines. It’s a guideline. It’s not something that is set in stone,” Lyle said.
The better news is that donations are holding their own during the busy holiday season, Valenti said. But “as soon as food comes in, it’s going out.”
In the Beaver Valley, individuals, churches and companies continue to support the soup kitchens and the food banks. Area supermarkets and cafes, including Giant Eagle, Shop ’n Save, Walmart, Aldi, Starbucks and Panera Bread, give unsold baked goods, as well, officials said.
And several supermarkets donate meats that are approaching their selling dates and can be frozen, said Donna Piccirilli, coordinator at the Salvation Army’s Beaver Falls food pantry on 13th Street, where each weekday 45 to 65 families pick up their monthly staples.
“Things have been going really well, thanks to the generosity of the community,” Piccirilli said.
HOW TO GET IT
A Beaver County Resource List, compiled by the Housing and Homeless Coalition of Beaver County, shows a community meal schedule and provides names and phone numbers for emergencies, housing, food, legal, social services, and mental health and drug and alcohol treatment.
It is available online at the Beaver County Collaborative Action Network at http://www.bccan.org. That information is also available on the CONTACT Beaver Valley telephone hot line: (724) 728-3650.