Offering meals to those that want them whereas helping eating places

PHOTOS COURTESY AUNT CHERYL’S CAFE

IWorking with the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, Allegheny County food companies and nonprofits have prepared more than 850,000 meals for those in need through the Food Relief Fund for Students and Families since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The participating companies are Aunt Cheryls Cafe, Community Kitchen Pittsburgh, the Eat’n Park Hospitality Group, the Elegant Edge Catering Love Rocks Cafe and Scratch & Co. as well as the non-profit providers Allegheny Center Alliance Church, EAT Initiative and YouthPlaces.

“My whole mission in life has always been to help people and offer good, fresh food. And that brought it all together, ”says Cheryl Johnson, a retired social worker who owns Aunt Cheryl’s Cafe in Braddock.

The Food Relief Fund for Students and Families began with a $ 1 million partnership funded by regional foundations, including a significant contribution from the PNC Foundation. In July, the company received more than $ 3 million in funds from Allegheny County’s CARES Act.

“Long before the pandemic, and now during the pandemic, United Way identifies the most critical needs in the community and finds people and organizations to ensure those needs are met,” said Cheyenne Tyler, school initiatives manager.

The program was originally aimed at school age children and their families. With the in-person learning capacity at Pittsburgh Public Schools closed, it was important to find ways to provide meals to children who normally have breakfast and lunch in their educational venues.

However, it is now open to anyone affected by COVID-19. “The care of the congregation has been drastically affected. These seniors can’t go to a common room to eat, and those extra meals helped them a lot, ”says Tyler.

Aunt team

Johnson estimates that she and her team prepared between 12,000 and 15,000 meals. “It is amazing to me when I add up that we have provided so many meals for our community,” she says.

The fully cooked family style meals are meant to be filling, nutritious, and tasty. To date, Johnson has offered chicken parmesan over pasta, roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy, fried chicken with vegetables, cabbage and keelbasa. “The food had to be good. I’ve seen some of those programs where the food comes in and the kids don’t want to eat it, ”says Johnson.

The restaurants also prepare “rucksacks” for children to hold for several days. Johnson’s includes fruit, packets of oatmeal, juice, muffins, noodles, and snacks.

Meals are usually sent once a week. Once the food is prepared, it is distributed in several ways: The vendors deliver directly to public places of residence. Volunteers distribute the meals on site. Some support centers collect meals from Eat’n Park restaurants. Three school bus routes in McKeesport, Sto-Rox and Penn Hills, in partnership with ACCESS Transportation Systems, bring meals and other goods to the bus stops, and families can get meals by walking to the bus stops. In addition, some agencies serve as hubs for sales.

“It’s hard to get food when you live in a place like Prospect Terrace. There are no grocery stores nearby and people don’t always have transportation to get to them. We know [that by delivering food] We offer something that they want and that they need, ”says Johnson.

Tyler says CARES Act funding expired in December, but that additional resources from Allegheny County helped extend the program. People in need of food aid can call 211 to connect with someone to help them. And anyone interested in contributing to the program can donate to the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania Emergency Fund. “We will go as long as possible to serve the church,” she says.

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