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April 2, 2009

Pitt steps up food collection efforts

Pitt’s 23rd annual Partnership for Food drive will collect non-perishable food items throughout April to help restock the shelves of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, a nonprofit organization that stores and distributes food and other grocery products to area soup kitchens, food pantries, senior centers, schools and homeless shelters.

In addition to on-campus collection sites (see end), this year Pitt is adding a virtual food drive, where members of the University community can shop online for items that the Food Bank needs most. Food can be purchased at about half the retail price, based on bulk purchasing from the Food Bank’s suppliers.

(The online shopping link is Credit cards accepted are Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express and Diners Club.)

For the third year, all donations, including those purchased online, will be matched in kind by the Office of the Chancellor.

Items such as peanut butter, tuna and salmon, meats, baby formula, chunky-type soups and stews especially are needed. Also welcome are dry cereal and household items including paper products, cleaners, soaps and toothpaste.

Home-canned or home-packaged foods and baby food in glass jars will not be accepted.

For more than a decade, the University has ranked among the 10 most successful Pittsburgh-area employers in the region’s annual spring food drives. Over the years, contributions from the University have totaled nearly 2 million units of food.

Pitt also is expanding its efforts to battle local and regional hunger throughout the year under the auspices of the University Senate’s community relations committee (CRC).

“Efforts to help the Food Bank top our agenda items for this year and going into next year,” said CRC co-chair Wesley Rohrer.

Those efforts include building a stable of volunteers through the Pitt Volunteer Pool to repackage donated foods at the Food Bank’s Duquesne warehouse site; distributing food at pantries and shelters and directly to registered individuals in Braddock, McKeesport, Homewood and the South Side; helping to harvest food at local farms, and at various locations doing clerical work, such as mailings, data entry, research and phone calls. A variety of weekday, evening and weekend hours are available for volunteers, Rohrer noted.

CRC also is helping to coordinate a fall food drive in conjunction with the Student Government Board and is working with student leaders on other ways of increasing Pitt’s year-round effort, such as expanding drop-off points to include residence halls and dining facilities, urging students to donate their unspent dining dollars to the Food Bank and working with Pitt units such as Athletics to establish discounts in exchange for non-perishable food donations.

In addition, CRC is promoting “Last Thursdays,” a volunteer effort of Pitt employees and students to repackage food at the warehouse on the last Thursday evening of each month. The end of the month is the Food Bank’s busiest time, because that’s when monthly paychecks run thin. Lenzner, Pitt’s shuttle bus vendor, is donating transportation service from campus and back.

For more information on volunteering, contact Pitt Volunteer Pool coordinator Steve Zupcic of the Office of Community Relations at 412/624-7709 or Online sign up is available at

Community Relations and the chancellor’s office also are co-sponsoring an internal push. A memo went out this week from the Office of the Chancellor to 600 deans, directors and department heads urging them to donate the amount of money they would normally spend on lunch out of the office once a week during April.

“If all 600 gave $40 for the month, that would be $24,000 — not insignificant,” Zupcic said.

According to Food Bank materials, in Allegheny County more than 85,000 individuals are using emergency services through the Food Bank’s network of agencies. Throughout the Food Bank’s service area, more than 120,000 individuals receive supplemental groceries each month, including 37,000 children under the age of 18, 16,000 people over 65, 17,000 laid-off or disabled individuals and 35,000 from households with wage-earners who still aren’t making ends meet.

Overall, the Food Bank distributes more than 1 million pounds of food and other products a month to its 350 member agencies.

“But with the economy in poor shape, as unemployment rates swell, the need is growing,” Food Bank director of educational programs Ivy Ero told the community relations committee March 24. “When the Food Bank opened 28 years ago, it was mostly to help the homeless in soup kitchens. Now, we’re seeing whole families line up at a distribution site. We’re adding a couple thousand people more a month to our membership. We’re seeing juggling acts going on: ‘Do I buy food or pay the utility bills or buy prescription medications?’ This is happening to everyday people, which is why our [marketing message] is ‘Everyday people need food every day.’”

Ero said those who are in need of supplemental food or who know someone who is should contact the Food Bank at 412/460-3663 (ext. 456) or visit the web site and click on the “get help” link.

—Peter Hart

Collection boxes for Pitt’s annual Food Drive are available through April at the following locations:

• William Pitt Union, Fifth Avenue lobby information desk;

• Circulation desks at all ULS libraries;

• Posvar Hall main floor;

• Barco Law School lobby and library;

• Starzl BST entrance lobby;

• CL ground floor;

• GSPH first-floor lobby;

• Craig Hall lobby;

• Biotech center lobby;

• SIS fifth-floor lobby;

• Litchfield Towers lobby, and

• Alumni Hall lobby.

Those needing bulk food pickups should contact Volunteer Pool coordinator Steve Zupcic at 412/624-7709.

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