The Community Empowerment Association (CEA) has passionately served Homewood and surrounding communities for over 25 years. So when the pandemic began, they were there as a trusted resource for residents. Founder and CEO T. Rashad Byrdsong immediately began organizing volunteers, partners, and donors in order to mobilize an emergency food distribution and delivery operation – called the Food First COVID-19 Emergency Food Program – that could reach every individual in need in the community.
African American communities across the country have been hit by COVID-19 the hardest, and Pittsburgh communities reflect those same statistics. In addition to higher rates of illness, many marginalized communities are also facing greater food insecurity as a result of the pandemic, worsening an already pervasive issue.
The Food First Program aims to reach as many of the most vulnerable residents by providing several ways to access help. For those searching for information about resources closest to them, CEA has served as a hub for referrals to other food banks, pantries, and distribution sites. For those able to pick up food on-site, CEA has held regular distributions to supplement those that they already had pre-pandemic. For seniors quarantining at home, community members with disabilities, or those without access to transportation, CEA has also delivered boxes of food and supplies. Their far-reaching efforts paid off, providing thousands of pounds of food to community members.
CEA provides holistic support to African American families, children, and individuals in the community, and has been for over two decades. This includes everything from providing for basic needs such as food and hygiene products, to educating youth through after-school and summer programs, to community engagement efforts such as registering individuals to vote, to workforce development programs. Truly a grassroots effort, CEA is run wholly by the community and for the community. So, while the pandemic presented a new crisis; CEA had the right resources to begin providing for residents’ most pressing needs. They were able to bring together volunteers, partners, and donors quickly and efficiently.
“While Mr. Byrdsong was responding to the crisis, the work he was doing was not new; He was simply helping to feed the community that he has served in many ways for over 25 years.” – Sanya Hart, CEA
Jumping into action in order to provide food during a particularly tumultuous time was certainly, as staff member Sanya Hart put it, “not new.” It was simply an extension of what CEA has always done — been there for their neighbors.
You can learn more about the Food First Program here.
Watch CEA’s Fight Against COVID-19 video, highlighting their food distribution process!