Network of Hope lives up to name

Monday, September 30, 2019 | 12:01 AM


Volunteers, donations and a strong community spirit are what makes a program like Network of Hope thrive at Allison Park Church in Hampton Township.

The nonprofit is a true reflection of its name as its dedicated to meeting the needs of the northern Pittsburgh community through support groups and its food bank, according to Allison Park pastor and program executive director, Jeff Leake.

Groceries and goods are provided for income-eligible food bank guests the first and third Tuesday of every month from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the church’s Hampton campus gymnasium on Duncan Avenue.

Success to the bimonthly endeavor is credited not only for the donations it receives from the ommunity, but also to its small and friendly army of volunteers.

“It’s such a great program, such a community. It becomes family,” said Leake, also a resident of Hampton Township.

Volunteers are usually people who are able to help during the week day when the program is in operation, whether from Allison Park church or other area. While many come from Allison Park Church, the program is intended to bring together volunteers from all over the local area, and it does, said Leake.

Any given Tuesday they are in operation, he estimates 50 or so people are helping, whether unloading donations, setting up the food bank, greeting and assisting shoppers, or cleaning up.

Cindy McCarthy, of the North Hills, loves volunteering for many reasons.

“The strongest reason is that it enables me to use the gifts and talents that God has given me to serve and minister to those that are hurting and in need of even life’s most basic resources of food and companionship,” said McCarthy, whose been helping out for almost five years.

The food bank at Allison Park Church began in 1983 and is an agency of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

Leake said they are now serving approximately 200 families or individuals. Regular clients may be medically disabled and cannot work, under-employed, or recently laid-off and are in a transition period.

Food pantries typically serve individuals and families earning less than 150% of the federal poverty line, according to pittsburghfoodbank.org.

Kat Burch is a food bank guest.

The Hill District resident, and now a member of the church, worked at the Gibsonia Walmart for many years before she found out she had cancer.

“I ended up getting sick with breast cancer and things got really tight. Circumstances changed,” she said.

Burch, originally from Montgomery, Ala., who had breast cancer twice, had a sister and mother who both also got breast cancer. She went back home to help them. Sadly, her sister passed away, but her mother survived and is now 84, she said. When she returned from Alabama, she first went to work at a Walmart in Denver, before she was transferred to Gibsonia.

After getting cancer the second time, Burch, 63, had treatment and surgery and is doing fine now. But when she tried to go back to work, it was too much for her physically.

She said her friends convinced her to go to the food bank. She admitted she was first embarrassed. A mother of five, with two grandchildren, she said she’s so independent and didn’t want to rely on others. But she told herself the food bank is how God was providing for her and to accept it.

“It’s like such a great blessing. They give you so much,” she said.

In lieu of volunteering at the food bank, Leake said businesses or classrooms can hold food and paper drives.

Their most current needed items include personal hygiene, laundry soap, toilet paper, trash bags, household items, pancake mix and syrup, according to Julie Mikus, who works with of Network of Hope.

Leake said they serve mostly people in the North Hills area, including Hampton Township. One in seven people face food insecurity in Allegheny County, with 43,000 of these children, according to the Network of Hope website.

Proofs of income and residency is required for eligibility and must be supplied at the second visit to the food bank.

Also, Network of Hope will begin working next month on their program to adopt a family for Christmas, another donation opportunity for small groups at schools or businesses, said Leake.

Working with local nonprofit Urban Impact Foundation, families are identified who may need assistance this upcoming holiday season.

Donors who sign up in October are then matched to a family in November, after which they can shop for them. They usually distribute the gifts in early December.

Network of Hope offers help to access other programs in divorce care, grief support, financial coaching and celebrating recovery, whether it’s at the Allison Park location or somewhere else, said Leake

For volunteering and food bank information, visit networkofhope.org.