WATCH VIDEO | Meals banks ‘right here to assist’: the area’s facilities are outfitted for trip wants within the hope that the risk to the provision chain can be short-lived information
BOSWELL, Pennsylvania – When a line of cars and trucks pulled up with open suitcases, Ben Tawney and a crew of volunteers were ready, carrying boxes of produce and bulging holiday turkeys.
And there was a lot more where that came from – 450 boxes were stacked in the trailer truck at the Somerset County Mobile Food Bank for local families – and their dining tables – this Thanksgiving season, according to Tawney, the program’s director.
Across the area, Tawney and other food banks have reduced their food lines compared to the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic before the COVID-19 pandemic.
But it’s the growth – food prices – that worries them a little.
“At the moment we are fine. We have a lot to eat for the people, ”he said. “But when food prices go up, the budget we have to work with doesn’t fit. It is this uncertainty that we worry about. “
Somerset County Mobile Food Bank bringing produce to people, other goods.
That’s not just true for the Tawney Chalkboard, which criss-crosses Somerset County on selected dates each month, providing communities with the groceries they need.
Larger, regional suppliers – the food banks that supply local pantries – also hope that the supply chain problems will ease in the coming months.
Cities feel trapped
It is already too late for some urban areas across the country.
For the past few weeks, food banks in California, Dallas, and New York have reported that they were forced to give away chickens this month because turkeys were scarce or too expensive.
A Colorado pantry reported that the cost of donating turkeys in their area was $ 15 per pound – about 15 times the price most Greater Johnstown stores advertised last week.
In the expensive San Francisco Bay area, the Alameda County Community Food Bank announced it is spending an additional $ 60,000 a month on groceries – and a total of $ 1 million to distribute 4.5 million pounds of product.
The bill was a quarter that size before the pandemic, operators told The Associated Press.
However, that doesn’t mean people in Cambria and Somerset counties aren’t feeling the pain of higher prices.
‘Glad to have help’
Hazel McClintock was stuck without his car running over the holidays and was walking for last week’s delivery in Somerset County.
She pushed a small metal cart a few blocks up the street to collect her serving of fruit, vegetables, and meat during Boswell’s visit to the Tafel.
She said her needs only increased when food prices skyrocketed.
“Hamburgers, juice – basically everything made of plastic – it’s all more expensive in the store now,” she said.
Donna Reckner, a retiree who lives in Jenners, said she received support from the Pennsylvania SNAP program. But even the food aid she receives each month on her ACCESS card isn’t enough to cover her monthly grocery bill, she said.
“The prices – especially meat – have gone up so much,” she said as she sat in line in her limousine.
“I’m so glad to have this (help).”
Indian Lake’s Wayne Gump said there was no doubt that there was “a great need” for assistance in the area.
He started volunteering with the Somerset County Mobile Food Bank a year ago – and said he remembered there was a time when his family was the one who needed help.
He was unemployed in the 1980s when a number of Somerset County’s mines were closed and turned to the state social services network for assistance.
“I understand how it is,” said Gump. “But in my wildest dreams I would never have imagined that a virus would cripple the world like this.”
‘Here to help’
Tawney said he was concerned that there are people in the area who are starving and don’t know they qualify for the food bank’s program.
For example, a family of four can make up to $ 39,750 and still receive support, he said.
“We want people to know that we are here to help,” said Tanwey.
The Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank surveyed recipients to identify trends as to why they are looking, even though it is too early to say if there is a surge in people seeking additional help because of food prices.
However, there are concerns that “food insecurity” is a bigger issue than it may appear in this part of the state, said Brian Gulish, vice president of marketing for the nonprofit.
“Food insecurity,” said Gulish, “means there is food at home, but a parent may skip a meal so the children can eat.”
The Pittsburgh nonprofit operates pantries and mobile dining in an 11-county region that includes Cambria, Somerset and Westmoreland.
And right now, he said, the shelves and freezers are full in his 125,000-square-foot warehouse – a space on par with the average Target department store.
“It’s this uncertainty”
But that does not mean that the regional nonprofit organization has no concerns of its own.
The Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank has increased the price per pound of groceries it buys by 29% over the past year – a pace that cannot go on, he said.
Fortunately, the nonprofit was able to handle it – until now.
Donations from the community have remained strong even during the pandemic.
“We have doubled our individual donor base in the past 18 months,” he said, noting that people and businesses are recognizing the plight of western Pennsylvania and are reaching out to help.
Local businesses often deliver truckloads of goods to meet the area’s needs – allowing the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank to continue serving an average of five meals for every dollar donated, he said.
“The concern is whether this will continue,” he said, noting that future donations are not guaranteed to stay that high.
That’s what worries Tawney.
With COVID-19 still present, there is no way of predicting what might happen next.
“With prices as they are,” he said, “it’s this uncertainty that worries us a little.”
‘Do what we can’
At locations like the Moxham Food Pantry, little has changed for the time being.
Deliveries arrive full and on time, although orders are not always as complete as they were a year ago, said coordinator Rich Lobb.
“If I order 10 boxes of corn now, I might get five boxes of corn and five boxes of green beans,” he said. “We’re seeing more substitutions. But the volume is good and we can make sure people have the food they need. “
Food banks and pantries are adapting, Tawney said.
If Somerset County’s mobile grocery bank gets a bulk bid for the items it uses this year, volunteers will jump in on the opportunity if they have room to store the surplus, he said.
The frozen turkeys his volunteers distributed last week were added to their stash “months ago,” he said.
And while grapes and apples in crates were provided by the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank last week, Somerset’s mobile bank has been working for the past few years to increase its own supplies by keeping its own potatoes at the Laurel Vista farm in Somerset Township.
“We’re doing everything we can to keep costs down,” he says.
And right now they’re also doing everything they can to let people know there’s plenty of food for those who need them, said Greg Will, a member of Somerset County’s Mobile Food Bank.
“Times are tough,” he said. “But we’re here to support people.
“Rain, snow or sleet, we come back every month as always.”