Hunger Awareness event hosted by NHCO
North Hills Community Outreach hosted a Sept. 28 event designed to increase understanding about the nearly 1.6 million Pennsylvanians who struggle to obtain food.
Hunger Awareness Experience participants assumed the mock identities of people experiencing food insecurity due to poverty, illness, unemployment or other reasons. Guests then simulated the experience of choosing items from NHCO’s Allison Park Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry.
NHCO provides food to nearly 700 families monthly through its pantries in Millvale and Bellevue, in addition to its Allison Park location serving clients in Hampton, McCandless, Ross, lower Richland and upper Shaler. Once clients meet income and residency requirements, they may utilize their designated pantries once per month for one year, prior to reapplying. Senior citizens may qualify for additional food through the federal Commodity Supplemental Food Program.
A monthly pantry visit is meant to supplement a family or individual’s normal grocery trip by providing nonperishable food, and oftentimes fresh produce, usually from NHCO’s organic Rosalinda Sauro Sirianni Garden. The nonprofit distributes meat and cheese, if available. Clients also will find cleaning supplies, paper products and personal care items.
NHCO staff placed the amount of groceries a family of four could take home monthly inside a shopping cart, so that Hunger Awareness Experience guests could visualize a pantry visit’s impact.
“I think we estimate that it’s worth around $150 — a big help for someone on a strict budget or struggling because then that money can go toward other things like medical bills, clothing, etc.,” said Jennifer Kissel, NHCO development and communications director.
Guest Dave Rankin launched Faith Community Partners in 2015 as its executive director to strengthen Tarentum’s Central Presbyterian Church’s community ties and expand its outreach. He said that the church, which has an emergency food pantry, aims to offer cooking and nutrition classes next year through Faith Community Partners. Rankin said he discussed educational opportunities with Amber Deemer, NHCO food pantry coordinator and registered dietitian.
“They presented some interesting statistics about hunger in Allegheny County and in Pennsylvania,” he said of the event. “All that stuff was very interesting, and I don’t think most people realize that. I think some of the people that have those kinds of needs don’t often — their stories don’t get told.”
Deemer showed attendees that items are labeled to meet nutrition requirements for diabetes or heart disease. NHCO also is one of only six Pittsburgh-area pantries with a gluten-free section.
Likewise, guests snacked on vegetables grown in NHCO’s garden while learning about the pantry’s “vegetable of the month” program, in which clients receive vegetables, ingredient-filled bags and recipes for dishes containing the vegetables.
“Last month was tomatoes. The month before that was green beans. This month is going to be onions. Typically, it is from surplus in the garden. The onions this month are going to come from Greater Pittsburgh (Community Food Bank),” Deemer said of securing this month’s vegetable as a Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank member agency.
NHCO is taking the Hunger Awareness Experience to the harvest festival at the farmers market at The Block Northway from 3 to 7 p.m. Oct. 26. The nonprofit will accept nonperishable food donations.
For information about accessing NHCO’s food pantries, visit: nhco.org/ accessing-nhcos-food-pantries or call 412-487-6316, option 1.
Erica Cebzanov is a Tribune-Review contributor.