The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank adapts to the need

 

Pittsburgh’s economic resurgence is talked about time and time again, but the rebound has not been equitably enjoyed. That’s where the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, which serves 11 southwestern Pennsylvania counties, steps in.

CEO Lisa Scales sees increased need for the Food Bank’s services in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. Even after working one or two jobs, people cannot put food on the table for their family each and every day. At the same time, senior citizens on fixed incomes often have to choose between medicine or food.

“The need has changed over the years, in terms of who it is we’re serving. It’s not always who people think,” she says.

Two years ago, the Food Bank analyzed this meal gap — in 2015, it provided 29 million meals, but the need was 58 million — and created a 10-year plan to address it. It also wants to reduce the need, to help more people stabilize their lives.

The Food Bank can’t meet this challenge alone, but Scales says the organization works through a network of more than 400 partner agencies.

“We’ve always done the work in partnership with others, but now, more than ever, we’re reaching out to a broader spectrum of partners to join with us to be part of the solution to ending hunger,” she says.

One example is working closely with health care providers because food insecurity impacts health. The Food Bank serves many people with diabetes and hypertension, so intervening sooner with more nutritious food decreases chronic disease.

A short supply chain

In order to distribute more food, the Food Bank is changing its distribution model, shortening its supply chain. The biggest opportunity to double its output comes from fresh produce, Scales says.

The organization’s network was built on food pantries that provided canned goods and boxed meals monthly, but that doesn’t get food to where people are when they need it.

“When we talk to the people we are serving and we ask them what types of food they are most interested in, produce is always in the top three — along with milk and meat,” Scales says.

In its new distribution method, orders are put together in advance, based on knowing what is most often requested and how many families are served, and then delivered on a weekly basis.

The organization is also considering going to more of a hub and spoke model.

“When the produce comes to the Food Bank, when it hits our back door, our goal was to already know where it’s going,” she says.

Last year, the Food Bank distributed almost 8 million pounds of fresh produce, or 26 percent of the total distribution. The goal is provide enough produce to account for 50 percent of the total distribution, about 20 million pounds.