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Food Bank Eyes Expansion With State Grant's Help

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
August 06, 2019
Posted in: Duquesne News

Refrigerated trucks are loaded at Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank in Duquesne. By 2025, the organization hopes to deliver 20 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables each year to people in 11 counties. (Photo special to Tube City Almanac)

The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank is planning to double the amount of fresh produce it provides to needy people throughout Western Pennsylvania by 2025.

To make that possible, the Duquesne-based organization is planning a renovation of its facility in the RIDC industrial park that would expand its cold storage area as well as its "cold dock" --- the part of the warehouse where fresh vegetables and fruit are received and repacked for distribution.

Officials last week announced that the food bank's project has been awarded $1 million from the state's Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program.

For nutritional and health reasons, food banks are moving away from pre-packaged boxed and canned foods and towards fresh foods, said Justin Lee, chief operating officer for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

"We serve an 11-county service area and our goal is really to close the meal gap that we’ve identified," Lee said Tuesday. "Enhancing our facility to become more efficient would create more space to distribute the types of products we want to distribute."

The agency's ultimate goal is to double the amount of fresh produce provided to families, from 10 million pounds per year to 20 million pounds, he said.

The food bank wants to convert some of its existing office space in Duquesne into cold storage and distribution space, and relocate offices to a new building alongside its warehouse at the foot of Grant Avenue.

The food bank is also planning a "model pantry" at the warehouse. "We do some emergency food assistance here, but we've never had an on-site food pantry, so it would really be a tremendous asset," Lee said.

Funding from RACP may be used for regional economic, cultural, civic, recreational or historic improvement projects.

Other projects in the Mon-Yough area that received RACP funding last week include $500,000 in upgrades to the swimming pool at the Carnegie Library of Homestead in Munhall to create new locker rooms and improve the fire safety and heating and ventilation systems.

"Both the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank and the Carnegie Library of Homestead provide key services to our residents, so it's encouraging to see the state giving back to two community assets that go above and beyond," said state Rep. Austin Davis.

Also announced was a $750,000 grant to construct a new 500-foot wall at the RiverLift barge dock in West Elizabeth. State Sen. Jim Brewster said the West Elizabeth project will help spur economic development along the Monongahela River.

Lee said the food bank obtains fresh produce from a variety of sources, including donations as well as purchases.

Wholesalers and growers across Pennsylvania often make fruits and vegetables available to the food bank at a greatly reduced cost, he said, especially if it would otherwise spoil or go to waste.

The produce is delivered to local food pantries in the food bank's own refrigerated trucks, or picked up in Duquesne by neighborhood agencies, Lee said.

Some of the produce is distributed direct to 18 different communities as part of the food bank's Produce To People program. In McKeesport, fresh produce is distributed to qualified families at Founders' Hall Middle School on the third Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to 12 noon.

The drawback to handling produce is that, unlike canned or dry food, fresh fruits and vegetables must be distributed quickly --- in days or hours, rather than weeks.

The food bank currently has less than 4,000 square feet of cold storage area available to hold produce, Lee said.

The proposed renovations would add another 2,000 square feet, as well as a temperature-controlled loading and unloading area for packing and repacking produce, he said.

Even with the state's $1 million in aid, funding for the food bank's expansion isn't complete, Lee said Tuesday.

"It doesn’t quite cover the entire cost, for sure," he said. "We are still in the quiet (fundraising) phase. We're trying to go out to our donors right now and we're getting a sense of the scope of (what) we can build."

However, the RACP aid "is one of the levers that is helping propel" the planning process forward, Lee said.

He thanked Brewster and Davis as well as state Sen. Jay Costa and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald for advocating for the food bank.

If additional funding is obtained, the food bank could be ready for a groundbreaking in 2020, Lee said.

Jason Togyer is the editor of The Tube City Almanac and volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. He may be reached at jtogyer@gmail.com.

Originally published August 06, 2019.

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