Blame it on the weather, the government or the economy, but demand for food assistance programs is increasing fast, according to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
The local charity, which serves more than 110,000 people a year, saw a 40 percent increase in food demand compared to last November, and the Westmoreland County Food Bank saw a 13 percent increase.
That’s despite Pittsburgh’s unemployment rate falling from 7.3 percent to 6.7 percent over the last 12 months.
To combat what’s described as a “critical upsurge in demand,” the Pittsburgh Foundation opened a matching fund that will provide up to $100,000 in a dollar-for-dollar match to neighborhood food pantries.
Grant Oliphant, president and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation, said food demand is increasing across the nation and the cold temperatures aren’t helping.
“I think it’s particularly desperate in communities as winter sets in and other expenses spike as well, including energy costs and transportation costs,” he said. “I think the burden may be greater in cold weather states, but we’re hearing about this from all over the country.”
Every month, more than 3,000 new families are turning to local food banks for assistance, Oliphant said, and he faults the financial crisis, as well as government funding cuts.
“There are a number of causes for this,” he said. “One is simply the lingering after effects of the recession. Another is a cut in benefits available to working poor families.”
On Nov. 1, reductions to the Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program took effect. The cuts cause a family of four to lose $36 dollars in food stamps, the equivalent of 21 meals, according to The Pittsburgh Foundation.
The organization is currently accepting food bank and pantry donations online with a minimum donation of $25. The foundation will cover all credit card transaction fees.