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Photo: Ma’s Pantry volunteers Debbie Griffith (treasurer), Karen Kane, Louise Beswick (secretary), Paula Greenwald, Nikesh Datta, John Hall and Alan Eichler (president) with their certificate from State Senator Jim Brewster’s office. (Kristen Keleschenyi photo for Tube City Almanac)
A local food pantry is celebrating 40 years of helping their neighbors in need.
Ma’s Pantry was created in 1983 by the Ministerial Association of North Versailles and East McKeesport.
The association was made up of five churches including Broadway Alliance, First United Methodist, Linway Presbyterian, Saint John’s Evangelical Lutheran and Saint Robert Bellarmine Roman Catholic Church. This multi-denominational effort was unprecedented at the time but the need in the community went beyond religious affiliations.
“They did not think it would last 40 years,” says Karen Kane, who has been volunteering with the pantry since 2004. “They thought it would meet the immediate need of the mills shutting down, but the whole country has been economically challenged.”
Ma’s Pantry — named for the first initials of the Ministerial Association — made its first delivery on April 9, 1983.
Forty years later, they were honored by State Senator Jim Brewster for their efforts. A certificate was recently issued to the pantry “recognizing those organizations which through adherence to the highest standards of service, contribute in a meaningful way toward a better and more productive society.”
The non-profit pantry, an affiliate of the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank, operates out of Broadway Alliance Church, and currently serves between 80 to 100 households from the North Versailles Twp. and East McKeesport area.
Twice a month, food is distributed at the church as well as delivered to those who may not drive or are ill. If a family shows up that does not live in Ma’s Pantry’s coverage area, they are sent home with an emergency food package and information about a food bank in their community.
“We’re always looking for new clients,” says Alan Eichler, who serves as the current president of the Ma’s Pantry Board of Directors. “We have some ideas just to be sure we can reach as many people as possible that have a need.”
Eichler says the reason the organization is in a position to take on new clients is because of the leadership of former president Edward Sites. “About 10 years ago they were in danger of closing. We are now on a solid foundation.”
Sites applied for grants over the years and created partnerships with local stores such as Aldi and Giant Eagle. The United States Postal Service takes up an annual collection for the pantry and Ma’s benefits from the KDKA Turkey Fund as well as the Pittsburgh Foundation’s Day of Giving.
Ma’s Pantry has provided support to North Versailles and East McKeesport residents through the mills closing, the pandemic and now the inflation crisis.
Board Treasurer Debbie Griffith says, “Nowadays, we service people who do work — they just don’t make enough to feed themselves. What we give them isn’t enough to last them the month, but it’s a good start.”
Volunteers and donors can find out more information by visiting the Ma’s Pantry website and clicking the link, “ways to help.” Drivers also are needed to make deliveries.
Kane has experienced many transitions while volunteering at Ma’s Pantry. She currently runs the relatively new clothing ministry that is also a part of the bi-monthly distributions. She says while she has seen a lot of people come and go over the years, “there always seems to be someone stepping forward and saying, ‘Do you need help? Can I help?’”
Kristen Keleschenyi is a freelance writer in North Versailles Twp. and one of the hosts of the Kristen & Amber Show on Tube City Online Radio at 5 p.m. Saturdays, 9 p.m. Mondays and 4 p.m. Thursdays. She may be reached at email@example.com.
Originally published March 24, 2023.