Westmoreland County Food Bank officials are hoping for some timely monetary donations and a milder-than-expected winter.
The Delmont-based food bank — which supplies 44 local area food pantries and an additional 22 member agencies — is in the midst of its most severe shortage in nearly a decade, officials say.
“Based on fundraising, we’re probably about $75,000 down from (this time) last year,” food bank development director Jennifer Miller said.
In addition, an anticipated U.S. Department of Agriculture delivery of four truckloads of turkeys for Thanksgiving meal distribution was cut by half. Food bank officials are using money that normally would be reserved for the Christmas season and the coming year to supplement the Thanksgiving provisions.
“We’re hoping donations this month will help us when the holidays come around next month,” Miller said.
That’s not the only challenge the food bank has been dealing with. Last winter’s frigid weather wreaked havoc on the food bank’s vehicle fleet, even vehicles purchased as recently as 2010.
“They required a lot of maintenance,” Miller said of the fleet. “That’s something we do budget for on an annual basis, but (costs) ran over. The outlook for this winter is a little better, but not much, so we’re hoping it will work out (in 2015).”
In the meantime, officials are looking at the possibility of reducing the quantity of food in the boxes provided to food bank clients. It’s a step no one at the agency is taking lightly.
“We were always in the habit of giving away two pounds of macaroni and two jars of spaghetti sauce, and this year, it will probably be one pound and one jar,” Miller said. “In order for us to continue giving food to more people, we’re feeding more people using less money, and unfortunately, the food boxes are what end up taking the hit.
“That’s not something we want to do.”
A 2014 study by Feeding America, a U.S. hunger-relief charity, and the food bank showed that one in seven Westmoreland County residents turn to food pantries and meal-service programs during the course of a year: that extrapolates to about 45,000 people.
Clients visit a food pantry an average of six times per year, officials said. In 2013, the food bank distributed more than 7 million pounds of food.
Miller said prospective donors can give with the confidence of knowing their money will be well spent.
“For every dollar that’s donated, we’re able to leverage that money better than anyone and actually buy $5 worth of food,” Miller said. “Ninety-five percent of every dollar goes right back out to the community.”
Patrick Varine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-871-2365 or firstname.lastname@example.org.