Getting food to those in need has been a huge part of the human services community’s response to COVID-19. And the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank is at the epicenter of that response. But there’s only so much that the Food Bank can do on its own – it depends on its partner organizations to increase its reach. Its partnership with Bible Center Church in Homewood and the Homewood Children’s Village is a good example of how the Food Bank expands its reach into communities. Beginning in mid-April, these two organizations joined forces to deliver meals to families in Homewood. By the end of July, together they’d served 54,229 meals (11,350 to children, compared to their typical number of 300 kids at any given time) and distributed 18,172 diapers and more than 8,000 wipes (these are items that can often be difficult for families to obtain or afford). In addition to the meals, they are continuing distribution of produce and dairy boxes, along with school supplies, cleaning supplies and other household items.
The partnership between these two organizations is not new. According to Steve Davis, director of business and ministry operations at Bible Center Church, and Walter Lewis, president and CEO of Homewood Children’s Village, they have been working together to serve neighborhood youth since the Homewood Children’s Village was founded in 2008. Both are well known and trusted throughout the community and responsive to emerging needs such as those identified during the coronavirus epidemic. For example, Homewood Children’s Village operated a virtual summer camp for 140 children, and Bible Center Church is setting up a learning hub for about 50 Pittsburgh Public School students who are not returning to school for at least the first semester of the upcoming school year and whose parents are not in a position to stay home during the day to support their virtual education. At the hub, the children will tune in to the remote learning and will complete their schoolwork with the help of academic coaches.
When COVID-19 hit, the two organizations were well-situated to join forces to address food insecurity. Homewood Children’s Village has food delivery experience (including designing the most efficient routes) from providing food for children and their households since 2013, while Bible Center Church’s Oasis Transportation Company has vehicles that typically would be used to transport children to and from school and that, during the pandemic, were sitting idle. The two organizations received transportation grants from the United Way and a grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation that allowed Bible Center Church to purchase a commercial refrigerator, freezer and milk cooler to aid in the expansion of the food distribution operation. They also received a joint award from the Hillman Foundation to support the combined food distribution and other efforts to support Homewood residents during the pandemic. The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank delivers food to Bible Center Church where it’s packaged and delivered three times/week by staff and volunteers from both organizations.
Not only have these two organizations helped the community by increasing their food delivery; they’ve also helped their staffs by reassigning to food delivery those staff members who otherwise would have been furloughed. Staff, particularly those with pre-existing conditions of their own or with a household member at risk, were given the option to shift to food delivery or other non-direct service work. And both organizations have hired additional staff who they hope to keep on payroll when the pandemic eases.
No one knows how long the pandemic will continue or what other needs might emerge. Without the regular income from providing school transportation – and with distancing requirements meaning that they can transport only about of third of the number that ordinarily would fit into the vehicles – Bible Center Church might have to rethink the focus of its Oasis Transportation business, and both organizations need to balance the critical needs of the pandemic with their ongoing operations and staff. But with flexible and responsive organizations like Homewood Children’s Village and Bible Center Church, the youth of Homewood will continue to receive the supports they need.