Food banks offer extra help with Thanksgiving
Area residents in need won’t have to worry if their family has a hearty Thanksgiving meal, thanks to the benevolence of local food pantry donors and workers, the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank and two local grocery stores.
More than a dozen food pantries dot Butler County and hand out food to people who are eligible all year long.
But Thanksgiving is a difficult time for many of the pantries’ clients, who don’t have extra money to purchase a turkey and trimmings.
Cyndi Burns, director of Portersville Food Pantry, said 71 people Saturday received a $25 gift certificate to purchase a turkey at Cal’s General Store on Perry Highway in the borough.
In addition, the families received a Thanksgiving basket containing milk and butter Burns purchased at a significant discount from Marburger Farm Dairy; potatoes; yams donated by Portersville Christian School; stuffing and gravy collected and donated by the Slippery Rock High School Marching Band Boosters; rolls donated by one woman; plus corn, green beans, cream soup and a pumpkin pie from the food pantry.
“They really appreciate that milk and butter,” Burns said. “It was a big hit.”
She said Portersville is a special community when it comes to helping the less fortunate.
“The only reason we’re able to give so much is because of local churches and individuals,” Burns said. “We were so blessed with donations this year. We wouldn’t ever be able to do this with our own budget.”
The food bank also has coordinated a Christmas adopt-a-child program and a cookie-ingredient collection.
Churches, individuals and organizations are collecting cookie mixes, oil, sprinkles and other holiday baking accessories, and will be given a dozen eggs as well at the distribution.
“We are God-centered, and we pray about things,” Burns said. “We’re just servants here, and we love people. We really do.”
Most other food pantries in the county also are giving a $25 gift card this month, but those are Giant Eagle cards donated by the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank.
Many county food banks receive regular deliveries from the huge Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank, so they receive the Giant Eagle gift cards for their Thanksgiving distributions.
Eliza Kuhn, manager of network growth and compliance at Greater Pittsburgh, said 30,601 $25 Giant Eagle cards were distributed this year to food pantries that use the food bank.
The cards are purchased at a discount from Giant Eagle using funds raised in the KDKA Turkey Fund, which collects donations throughout the station’s viewing area to put toward the gift cards.
Of those cards, 1,495 were sent to food pantries in Butler County.
Kuhn explains they are not limited to turkeys, but can be used to buy anything at Giant Eagle.
“When you are food insecure, putting food on the table is a struggle on a day-to-day basis,” Kuhn said. “(The gift cards) take a lot of pressure off families and allow them to be able to enjoy the holidays without the worry of how they are going to produce a Thanksgiving dinner.”
She said pantry directors report each year that clients are very thankful for the cards.
“Knowing they are being given a gift card to use on whatever they need is very empowering,” Kuhn said.
Cabot United Methodist Food Pantry gave the Giant Eagle cards to 75 families last week.
Sue Shaltes, food pantry manager since 2004, said extra items meant to grace the Thanksgiving tables of clients also were distributed with the cards.
Each family received five pounds of fresh potatoes from a local farm that were donated by another church.
Stuffing, gravy and other Thanksgiving staples also were in the 75 boxes.
“The whole community donates food,” Shaltes said. “Different groups have food drives for us, and five churches collect food for us.”
Cabot, like many other county food pantries, also receives regular donations from Community Partnership, manager of the Butler Food Bank.
Shaltes said the way clients are treated during the distributions also is important at Cabot.
“There are lots of people with health issues, and they can’t pay the bills and buy the food,” she said. “We know it is very hard for some people to ask for help, so we try to help them while maintaining their dignity.”
Petroleum Valley Food Cupboard, which serves the northern communities in the county, also distributes the $25 Giant Eagle gift cards, plus all the fixings, to their 55 to 60 clients.
The Rev. John Pistorius and his wife, Christina, operate the food cupboard out of Christ Family Church in Chicora.
“It has become a tradition in the U.S. where everyone expects to have a Thanksgiving meal, but not everyone gets to have one,” Pistorius said.
St. Vincent de Paul in Butler received 425 Giant Eagle gift cards to distribute to people who receive food from the organization.
St. Vincent de Paul distributes food three days per week so its clients can pick up their monthly meal box.
Last month, food was distributed to 299 people, and she expects that number to increase this month.
“We see a jump in November and December, because they know they are going to receive the gift card,” said Lisa Slupe, director of services at St. Vincent de Paul.
She said inflation is greatly affecting the food insecure in Butler, who are struggling with fuel, food and other costs.
“They don’t know where their next meal is coming from or if they’ll have to choose between food and medicine,” Slupe said. “There are times I can’t sleep.”