Speaking Out for the Pittsburgh Hunger Fund

The Pittsburgh Hunger Fund is a coalition made up of Just Harvest, the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, Pittsburgh Community Services Inc., and hunger services at The Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh. The fund is apportioned yearly from Community Development Block Grants to the city’s districts, and it’s been an important line of defense against hunger in our region. This past Monday Just Harvest joined our partner organizations in speaking out to City Council at a public budget hearing.

Just Harvest staff and board members attended the Nov. 29 budget hearing to offer testimony to Councilmembers Natalia Rudiak, Darlene Harris, Doug Shields, Bruce Kraus and R. Daniel Lavelle on the importance of the city’s continued funding. Board secretary Mary-Elizabeth McCarthy first addressed council on the effects of hunger on children and the elderly, highlighting the struggles that seniors face even when accessing food pantries. Invoking Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mary-Elizabeth said that “government is the last resort for people who are hungry.”

Board member Mary Elizabeth McCarthy gives her testimony.

Board member Mary Elizabeth McCarthy gives her testimony.

Co-Director Tara Marks offered successes from the SNAP outreach, Summer Food outreach, and tax services that have been made possible with the Hunger Fund’s support.

“In these hard economic times more of your constituents are in need of help feeding their families,” said Tara, noting that so far this year, 1590 SNAP applications from individuals in the city have been processed). Additionally, said Tara, city residents received $2.3 million in total refunds from 1170 tax returns completed by Just Harvest, free of charge, as part of our work with the Money in Your Pocket Coalition (now supported by the United Way of Allegheny County) during tax year 2009. Reclaiming returns and Earned Income Tax Credit provided crucial relief for many of our neighbors stricken with financial stress.

Tara Marks gives her testimony to Pittsburgh City Council.

Tara Marks gives her testimony to Pittsburgh City Council.

“I’ve been in these people’s shoes. I’ve had to make the hard decision of whether to pay a bill or buy food,” said Child Nutrition Advocate Shauna Ponton.

“The recession we are facing has thrown thousands more families through a loop,” she continued. “It is important for these organizations to get the funding they are requesting so they will know that they can continue the great work that they are doing and provide services to the citizens of Pittsburgh.”

Council’s response was promising – though they acknowledged the current economy as an obstacle, Councilmen Kraus and Shields committed their support of at very least holding the line on the Hunger Fund contribution, if not increasing it for 2011. “As Americans, it speaks to our egalitarianism that we want to reach out and help one another,” said Councilman Shields, thanking the organizations for their persistence. “This is our ‘common wealth’, and I’d like to see a secure ‘floor’ – not just a ‘safety net’ – that allows all of us to stand on our own.”

Councilwoman Rudiak noted that it’s evident that people need the types of services offered by the Hunger Fund. She encouraged the groups to continue to share their stories of everyday people in need as a defense against the more negative connotations cast over food stamps and similar programs in recent times.

Just Harvest thanks City Council for its commitment to helping the Pittsburgh Hunger Fund help Pittsburghers in need!

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