Meals financial institution transition in Washington County accomplished | Native Information
ATLASBURG – Richard Nelson isn’t sure what he would do without the Burgettstown Area Food Pantry.
The Independence Township man spent time volunteering at and receiving food from the Avella pantry before it closed last year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But he doesn’t own a car, so he made the long drive with his sister in her SUV and waited patiently in line Wednesday morning as volunteers brought boxes of food to more than 100 clients who regularly come to the monthly food distribution along Route 18 just south of Burgettstown.
“Probably wouldn’t have made it month-to-month. A lot of people wouldn’t have made it,” Nelson said about how the food he receives from the pantry has helped him and many others survive. “Everybody helps everybody. I’m happy. I’m proud of it.”
Having been a volunteer himself, Nelson, 60, was especially thankful of the people who delivered the heavy boxes to the vehicles lined up in several neat rows on the gravel parking lot.
“They’re good help. Volunteers, they’re hard to get,” said Nelson, who is suffering from various health problems. “A lot of people, they give you a little more (food).”
July was the first full month that the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank took over management of the dozen pantries across Washington County after the county commissioners voted in December to reallocate their $240,000 in state and federal funding from the Greater Washington County Food Bank to the Pittsburgh nonprofit. While the transition earlier this year got off to a bumpy start as Greater Washington’s officials decided to work as a separate nonprofit to battle food insecurity in the community, Pittsburgh began taking on a larger role in May and now completely supplies the pantries and 11 senior high-rise apartments in the county.
“Things are going extremely well,” said Charlese McKinney, the director of partner network programs at the Pittsburgh food bank. “We’ve got all of the pantries connected to us and all of them now have received orders from us.”
She praised the work by the pantry coordinators with how they’ve assimilated to the new system. Change is never easy, and it’s taken some time to get everyone trained, McKinney acknowledged, but the pantries are now fully integrated within Pittsburgh’s network. The transition began in May, but became official on July 1.
“It was not an easy transition, because it wasn’t expected,” McKinney said of the December vote by the county commissioners to put Pittsburgh in charge. “Everyone was welcoming to new ideas and didn’t make us feel like an outsider. It’s now our normal course of business. We’re really comfortable where we’re at. We’re in a great position.”
That’s how Beth Engel, coordinator for the Burgettstown Area Food Pantry, feels about the changes.
“There’s a transition period, but I think it’s wonderful,” Engel said. “The cooperation and assistance from Pittsburgh Food Bank has been excellent. Their goal is the same as our goal.”
Her mother, Jean Roberts, ran the pantry for 36 years before her death in 2013. Engel took over and has led it ever since.
Engel is pleased with the amount of fresh produce the pantry receives from Pittsburgh, along with the electronic administrative filings she does each month, which takes her about 10 minutes to complete compared to the three hours it usually took her to fill out handwritten paperwork from before.
“It’s made a big difference,” Engel said. “It’s made things easier.”
While the economy shows signs of recovery as the country continues to battle the pandemic, Engel said there’s still a “great need” to help people. At the height of the pandemic and economic downturn last year, the pantry was helping about 225 clients each month, although that has dropped to 75 to 175, depending on whether people are away during the summer.
“We were busy,” said Jessica Held, the pantry’s assistant coordinator. “The community was great. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know what we’d do.”
Volunteers have noticed fewer clients lately after federal stimulus checks were sent out, illustrating that the money is helping those in need. But Engel noted that vehicles start lining up at 6 a.m., even though the distribution didn’t begin for another three hours.
Clients are eligible on a sliding scale depending on their household income and the number of people in the family. While they’re open just once a month, the Burgettstown Area location will also work with clients to distribute boxes of food by appointment, if needed. Engel and Held praised the dedication of the volunteers, who range in age from 40 to 80 years old.
“We’re family here,” Held said. “It’s a close-knit group.”
The community has “stepped up” food and financial donations during the pandemic, Engel said.
“The money you see here stays here. This is where our focus is. We don’t get into politics,” Engel said of the transition between the two food banks.
While some people were concerned about how Pittsburgh would allocate the county’s money to ensure the local pantries would receive their fair share, those worries have been alleviated in recent months. Now, McKinney said they looking to open additional pantries in the county to offer more outreach for people in needed.
“We’re in a good place,” McKinney said. “We consider this a clean slate and we’re moving forward. We’re continuing what we’re doing across the service area.”ncms-inline)33a77f34-48eb-4228-84e9-ce64bc3f41a2(/tncms-inline)