Families, food banks in southwestern PA still reel from recession

Food Bank

Though most people refer to the Great Recession in the past tense, some of the struggles it caused continue to pose a problem for families in Southwest Pennsylvania.

Hunger and food insecurity are affecting people in the region who you may not expect. According to a PittsburghTODAY article, they are well-dressed suburbanites; they have jobs; and their children go to decent schools. But they’ve been knocked down in recent years, and while they try to catch up, sometimes they don’t know if they can put dinner on the table.

The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank alone serves nearly 360,000 people in 11 counties every year, and that’s only a third of the people eligible for the service, according to the story. For a family of four to be eligible to receive food there, they can’t be earning more than $35,775 a year.

“Hunger is a serious problem. It’s much more pervasive than people realize,” says Lisa Scales, chief executive officer of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. “Hunger is a hidden issue. People who struggle with it are not always willing to ask for help. They’re ashamed. It’s not something they readily share, even with family, friends.”

Food banks have also been stressed by the steady demand and the food industry’s new efficiencies in inventory and labeling, which means they aren’t getting as many surplus items donated as they used to.

And, like most social services, food banks have also sustained cuts in government funding. When the national food-stamp program was slashed by $5 billion, the concerns only grew more urgent because many patrons of food banks used food stamps.

An estimated 61 percent of those served by the Greater Pittsburgh food bank receive food stamps.

The food banks have come to rely on private donations to meet the need. About 60 percent of revenue at the Westmoreland County Food Bank, for example, is from private donations, a 10-percent increase over the last decade, according to PittsburghTODAY.

Other important figures from the story:

  • Among those served by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, at least 21 percent are children under age 18, and 26 percent are seniors, most of whom live on a fixed income.

  • According to the Feeding America report, 1-in-3 households who use the Greater Pittsburgh food bank have someone working full time.

  • Some 62 percent of households served by the Greater Pittsburgh food bank reported that they had to choose between paying for food and utilities in the past year, and 59 percent chose between paying for food and transportation.

  • An estimated 69 percent of households reported using strategies such as eating food past its expiration date, pawning or selling personal property and watering down food or drinks in order to get enough food.

Reach Halle Stockton at 412-315-0263 or hstockton@publicsource.org. Follow her on Twitter @HalleStockton.