Food banks make adjustments so they can serve while keeping people safe

Friday, March 20, 2020 | 11:00 PM


While most places are closed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, several organizations are staying open to serve those in need.

Network of Hope operates a food bank at its location at Allison Park Church on Duncan Avenue.

Normally, qualifying recipients of the food bank can walk through a large room and pick what they need, with volunteers bagging it at the end. The program is almost all volunteer-ran, and for the safety of its volunteers and patrons, it was adjusted last week to offer pre-packaged boxes to take home and distributed “drive-through style,” adhering to safe social distance, according to church pastor, and NOH coordinator Jeff Leake.

The food bank serves the community twice a month, he said. This is a new situation for everyone, he said. And it’s helpful to people who suddenly find themselves without work and paychecks.

Last week food pantry volunteer Laurel Wolford of Allison Park said they usually expect 110 to 120 patrons to their food bank on their distribution days. But that number increased at the Network of Hope, with 172 families, 56 of which were new.

Leake said this week and in the near future, they will be staying open to help those in need. Services may need to be adjusted, such as dropping off food on porches. But they recognize that they don’t want to leave anyone without services.

“If they need someone to bring something to them — we will make sure that we can bring to them what they need. They can contact us and we will do whatever we need to do to get there,” he said.

“We are all learning how to live in this new reality. But we have a full team of people who are trying to figure it out and make sure that no one who has a need, goes without food or supplies during this time,” he said.

He said the volunteers who know the system well are mostly over the age of 65. They stayed home last week. Wolford said the pre-packaged meals and drive-through made her feel safe.

“I feel very comfortable,” said Wolford.

• North Hills Community Outreach, with its home office in Allison Park, also services a large population of qualifying clients with various services including a food bank.

All NHCO offices, which includes North Boroughs and Millvale locations, closed March 21 with a tentative open date of March 30, according to Jeff Geissler, communications coordinator.

Last week, they also had an alternative to the food bank distribution. Like NOH, they supplied pre-packaged supplies, drive-through style.

“Overall, we are expecting a significant increase in individuals and families who will be needing our assistance at this time. Also, and for the safety of everyone, we currently are not accepting in-kind donations like food and sharing project items,” said Geissler.

He hopes they’ll start accepting donations after March 30. But are accepting online donations at NHCO.org/donate.

It’s hard to plan ahead as things seem to change day by day, he said.

He said they want to let their clients know they are closed until March 30.

“This will allow them to prepare to go without our services. But if they require assistance during that time, and it is not a medical or life-threatening emergency, they can call our main office number or send an email. We will be checking messages frequently and will get back to them as soon as we can with guidance,” said Geissler.

Seniors with questions or concerns can call the Services for Seniors Program at 412-449-0151, he said.

Free Rides for Seniors shuttles have also been suspended until March 30. Anything already scheduled will be on a case-by-case basis. And the attorney services will be held by phone.

• The NHCO free tax prep program will be suspended at its Millvale and North Boroughs Volunteer Tax Assistance site. Those with appointments will be contacted by the NHCO to reschedule.

• The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank has a list of food distribution locations listed at www.pittsburghfoodbank.org.

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