Neighborhood Allies’ Love My Neighbor! and CARE Fund Grants At Work in the Community | Wilkinsburg Community Ministry

Nov 2, 2020

Wilkinsburg Community Ministry’s mission is to respond to the needs of their neighbors, helping them to access food, clothing, and energy assistance. They typically serve 300 families per month from their food pantry, which receives weekly donations through their partnership with the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank, as well as from local restaurants, 412 Food Rescue, and their own gardens. But amid COVID-19, the need of the community grew and WCM was serving up to 500 families a week from March until May. Now, WCM is still serving 550 families per month.

“According to Feeding America, food banks and pantries have seen a 50% increase in the number of people they are serving; probably 30 percent of those are people being served for the first time,” said WCM Executive Director, Ruth Kittner, in their newsletter. “At WCM, the numbers are higher. We are serving in a month three times more than we served in the same month last year.”

Photo courtesy of WCM’s Facebook Page.

In the Spring of 2020, Wilkinsburg Community Ministry (WCM) was awarded a $2,500 Love My Neighbor grant to aid them in building a longhouse that would allow them to grow fresh food through the winter. This project combines two indigenous methods of growing and shelter: the Mesoamerican Chinampas and the Woodlands era Hoop Longhouse traditionally used by the Iroquois. WCM is working on this project in collaboration with a local Iroquois man and the Iroquois Counsel Autochthon Nation. While some of the funds had to be redirected to WCM’s other gardens due to an increased need for fresh food, the completion of the longhouse is still in sight! You can learn more about the progress of the longhouse, and WCM’s other initiatives in their September newsletter.

WCM also recently received a $10,000 grant from our COVID Accelerated Relief Effort Fund to explore building microhubs — small, specifically located pantries placed in neighborhoods that are difficult to reach due to winding roads, steep hills, or a lack of sidewalks. These conditions create a barrier to accessing their food pantry, as many of their community members don’t drive or don’t have reliable access to transportation. The microhubs would create a way to distribute their resources to more areas and serve even more families and individuals.

“WCM is preparing for a long-term food crisis, both in our neighbors’ ability to purchase food, and in their ability to find food. Even as the panic-buying of the spring subsided, two problems remain: the increased cost of food – up to 10-12 percent for some items– and the scarcity of food in the stores,” said Kittner in their September newsletter. “Increased costs mean that many cannot purchase food that might be available. Shortages of food have a trickledown effect on the pantries and food banks which, like WCM, have all relied on excess product from grocery stores to survive. As the grocery stores have less excess, the Food Bank Warehouse gets less to share.”

With these statistics in mind, it is even more important to think of new and creative ways to get food to our communities. Both the longhouse and the creation of microhubs in hard to reach areas will help WCM to keep serving neighbors in need as the pandemic continues to cause illness, job loss, and food insecurity in our communities. We are proud to support them in their work!

Love My Neighbor!, an initiative founded by Neighborhood Allies, invests in the ingenuity, talent, creativity, and hope in our communities by investing in resident-led projects that aim to improve neighborhoods and engage neighbors. Once a year, residents who live in one of our target communities and are passionate about making a positive change in their neighborhood, can apply for small grants ranging between $500 – $2,500.

The CARE Fund was created in response to the rising need for support among our partners and allies working to get food, protective equipment, and other vital materials to residents in our neighborhoods. As part of our overall COVID Accelerated Relief Effort (CARE) Package, the fund aims to address the food, health, and safety priorities of our communities as well as help to stabilize the organizations carrying out this important work.

Top Header Image Photo Credit: Prototyping Larimer Stories by artist John Peña, photo by OPA