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More seeking food bank’s services

The holiday season can be a tough time for folks having problems putting food on the table.

More and more these days, people who previously were supporters of food banks and other charities are looking to those very institutions for support.

Tina Scott of Brighton Heights is one such person.

She recently turned to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, which is based in Duquesne, for food assistance.

“From when I was 12 till when I was 22, my mother and I would always feed the homeless once a month,” Tina recalled recently. She volunteered with Bethlehem Haven in Pittsburgh and remembers helping out with church clothes drives.

But circumstances have changed and Tina, now 30, said she finds herself this year with one roommate who is in school, another roommate whose unemployment just ran out and her own paychecks not going as far as they once did.

“I make too much for most programs,” said Tina, who works in the mental health field. She said the eye-opening moment that her household needed help was when her roommate’s unemployment ran out.

Though she’s still in the process of applying for food relief, Tina is hopeful.

“Any little bit is going to help,” she said.

Shawna Chapman, 38, of Wilkinsburg, also is applying for help feeding her family this year.

Shawna, who used to work as a medical assistant until health problems forced her to give up her job, said she too supported charitable causes when asked.

“You feel like you want to give help, give back,” is how she explained her past approach to giving.

Not long ago, Shawna developed sarcoidosis, a condition that causes cellular swelling. In her case, it affects the optic nerve in her left eye. To treat it, and prevent it from spreading to her right eye, doctors had to sever the nerve in her left eye. That caused Shawna to lose sight in that eye. She also suffers from diabetes.

“It’s been kind of difficult,” said Shawna, a single mother of three adolescent boys. Though her vision problems forced her to give up driving, Shawna said she recently approached Milestone, a community-based agency in Wilkinsburg, about getting a discounted bus pass. She’s also in the process of trying to secure relief from food pantries in her area.

“You never know how things are going to change,” Shawna said.

Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank CEO Joyce Rothermel said the agency has seen an uptick in the number of families it serves as the economy continues to stagnate.

“It is the busiest time in our whole 30-year history right now,” said Rothermel, noting that the number of people needing food assistance began rising steeply in August 2008.

Rothermel said GPCFB continues to see spikes.

In the last quarter, 16,000 more people in the 11 counties the food bank serves had unemployment benefits end, she said.

“People have been coping,” she said. “When you’re first unemployed, you make adjustments.”

When those benefits run out, people have to take other measures, she said.

“Food is a pretty critical way we can help people stretch their dollars further,” Rothermel said.

The food bank says it needs more people, companies, groups and governmental representatives if hunger is to be ended. Donations, volunteerism and food drives are among the ways people can help.

People who need emergency food relief can call Hunger Services Network of the Urban League of Pittsburgh at 412-325-0749 to be referred to a food pantry in their neighborhood.

Additional information about volunteering and locations of local food pantries is available online at www.pittsburghfoodbank.org .


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