11/30/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 12/01/2021 14:55
CNX Foundation partners with local foodbanks as they
adapt to the evolving impact of COVID-19
PITTSBURGH, PA (November 30, 2021) - CNX Foundation today pledged $5,000 to the Corner Cupboard Food Bank Virtual Fund Drive, which launches today in Greene County. CNX Foundation is also announcing gifts of $5,000 each to support Food Helpers (Washington County) and the Westmoreland County Food Bank.
"We continue to partner with these vital organizations in our shared goal of ending food insecurity in this region," said CNX Foundation Board Chair Brian Aiello. "The pandemic and other socio-economic factors continue to create significant needs in our community, and together we are stepping in to help meet those needs. We created the CNX Foundation specifically to support organizations like these who are the grassroots tip of the spear in the local fight against hunger."
A year ago, foodbanks and food pantries across the country were heading into the holiday season facing record requests for food and supplies. In Greene, Corner Cupboard Foodbank was supporting nearly double the families it normally serves. Executive Director Candace Webster recalls a feeling of panic. "When COVID first hit, it was an eye-opener for any human resource organization. But we geared up and did what we always do." She also recalls a silver lining. "A positive that came out of it was the recognition and outpouring of support from the community."
With the help of their communities, foodbanks in southwest PA rose to meet the challenge of 2020. They hosted emergency food distributions and launched virtual fundraising campaigns. In Washington, Food Helpers utilized a Truck-to-Trunk model it had debuted before the pandemic to ensure donated food gets to the right family without spoiling while minimizing human contact. Now, as the calendar shifts to a new holiday season, local foodbanks agree we have entered a new period of uncertainty.
"The immediate crisis of long drive-up lines has faded, but it doesn't mean the crisis is over," said Lauren Hill, CEO of Westmoreland Food Bank. "The economic recovery for the families hit hardest could last years and [we] will continue to provide assistance."
By the summer of 2021, demand on local agencies had retreated toward the norm, but recently it has started to rise again. "The need is different today than it was in March of 2020," said Hill. "Families who sustained themselves to this point with the assistance of unemployment benefits and their own savings are reaching the end of their resources at the same time that winter expenses are increasing. Many of the individuals we are seeing today have never sought our assistance before. Lost work hours, illness, and caring for ill family members have created challenges for people who never expected to need a helping hand."
Webster agreed. "We've seen an increase since September. With colder weather, people are trying to decide between putting money toward heating bills, or buying medication, or Christmas." While the requests for food have yet to reach 2020 levels, foodbanks are wary of an uncharted path forward. Programs like unemployment and extra food stamps are expiring for some recipients who find themselves turning to the foodbanks. "From the start of the pandemic until now, we're seeing new clients who have never received assistance in their life," said Webster.
In Washington, the pandemic resulted in Food Helpers expanding to clients beyond their previous footprint. "We're getting requests from families outside the county where the foodbanks are not as large," said CEO George Omiros. The expansion is happening around economic criteria as well. "We're also realizing there are more people in need of support. A lot of seniors are falling through the cracks because they're just above the state and federal guidelines to receive food," Omiros said.
More than 20,000 people in Washington County are considered "food insecure," and Omiros estimates nearly half of them don't qualify for government assistance because they might earn an extra 50 cents per hour, for example. Through Food Helpers' Community Cares program, they're striving to meet those additional needs. "We're saving lives," said Omiros. "If someone reaches out who needs food, we provide that food for them. Our goal is to make sure no one goes to bed hungry."
One permanent impact of the pandemic is the shift to virtual fundraising. Many foodbanks were already moving in that direction, but, as Hill stated, "We had to get better at it very quickly because we've not had any other options." Greene, Washington and Westmoreland all relied on in-person food drives that have been cancelled for nearly two years. This Thanksgiving, even Westmoreland's direct mail campaign was cancelled due to supply-chain issues.
"What's hard to explain to people is our operational expenses," said Webster. Greater need increases the strain on forklifts, refrigeration units, trucks, etc. Those are the assets foodbanks are now turning their attention toward.
To support Corner Cupboard Foodbank in Greene County, click here.
To support Food Helpers in Washington County, click here.
To support Westmoreland County Foodbank, click here.
"Giving Tuesday is critical to our Food Bank's success-especially in a time where in-person fundraisers are still of concern," said Hill. "Monetary gifts made at this time of year allow us to serve families all year long."
About the CNX Foundation
The CNX Foundation is a registered 501c(3) philanthropic organization that invests tangibly, impactfully, and locally, targeting urban and rural communities within the Appalachian Basin facing socio-economic challenges. With a commitment of $30 million to this region over six years and a focus on underserve populations, the CNX Foundation seeks to set a new standard for how corporations engage with their communities. Additional information, including funding criteria and grant application details can be found at www.cnx.com/foundation.