Washington County Commissioners removing $280,000 of federal and state food aid from GWCFB



During a year where Greater Washington County Food Bank has reached unprecedented levels of food distribution around the communities of Washington County, the Food Bank now has another set of obstacles to overcome. In its 35-year history, Greater Washington County Food Bank has faced its fair share of times where food insecurity has risen, but nothing quite like COVID-19.

When COVID-19 first impacted the county, the Food Bank overcame health and safety obstacles by implementing a contactless distribution model, like many other county and regional food banks have. When faced with obstacles of significant increases in signups during furloughs and layoffs, the Food Bank overcame the administrative hurdles of processing a typical 110-130 new signups per month to as many as 96 in one day. When faced with the literal hundreds of smaller, daily obstacles to forward the mission of ensuring no one goes to bed hungry, the Food Bank has been able to adjust, innovate, and respond quickly to help those most vulnerable in the community.

But the newest obstacle is one that Greater Washington County Food Bank hadn’t foreseen themselves to face during the middle of a global pandemic: a vote from Washington County Commissioners to remove $280,000 worth of federal and state food aid designated for Washington County, and reallocate it to an Allegheny County organization for administration.

On December 17, Commissioner Diana Irey-Vaughan, Commissioner Nick Sherman, and Commissioner Larry Maggi held a vote to allocate that money towards Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank to oversee the administration and distribution on food products that the federal and state food aid money is designated towards. Commissioners Irey-Vaughan and Sherman voted in favor of removing those funds from Greater Washington County Food Bank, while Commissioner Maggi voted against it. According to an article from the Observer-Reporter, a number of clients had reached out to commissioners with complaints of adjustments made during COVID-19. The commissioners have not provided Greater Washington County Food Bank with individual client names and details of those specific complains to directly address and nor given the opportunity to resolve them with each individual food bank client.

Certainly, COVID-19 has made for a strange, unique year for many. With daily adjustments to safety regulations, Greater Washington County Food Bank is proud of the quick innovations made out of necessity to ensure the safety of food bank clients, staff, and volunteers. The main adjustments during this unprecedented time were for client convenience, freshness, and food safety for the 9 public pantries and 21 senior/disabled/veteran high rises around the county, distributing three times as much food as normal.

Regarding convenience, it allowed a contactless drive-thru model as well as a simplified proxy system to ensure all clients had ability to receive food, including those without vehicles or means of transportation. Regarding freshness, it ensured product was in refrigeration and freezer units until time of distribution, and allowed equity around the county (meaning, some locations where freezer and refrigeration space were not available, clients could now receive these food products in addition to their non-perishable items). Lastly, regarding food safety, it ensures products are safely stored at the required temperatures before clients take the items home from their respective locations.

The labor-intensive adjustments are in the best interest of those who utilize Food Bank services. The pleasure of knowing that those in Washington County who need assistance are getting it in the safest possible manner makes every heartfelt hour of logistics and preparation worth it. Greater Washington County Food Bank wants to thank each and every volunteer who has supported us since COVID began.

Greater Washington County Food Bank will continue our mission of the past 35 years – to feed those in Washington County and help our neighbors who need help the most. We are committed to providing the best service, with the freshest non-perishables and fresh food items, and continue to partner with organizations and groups who share our mission. We look forward to serving the thousands of clients each month who utilize our services. We look forward to continuing to navigate food distribution during an unprecedented global pandemic and continue to innovate to ensure convenience, freshness, and food safety.

To our network of partnerships with local and regional organizations, our network of donors and supporters, and our network of clients that we serve, rest assured that Greater Washington County Food Bank is not closing its doors. All past and future support will continue to make a positive effect on the citizens of Washington County. All donations made directly to Greater Washington County Food Bank will remain with the organization and will not be transferred. We are a Washington County organization whose sole focus is helping Washington County citizens. The Board of Directors for Greater Washington County Food Bank added, “We will continue serving our clients to fight the battle of food insecurity, and we appreciate all past and future support of Washington County’s premier food support organization.”

A transition meeting with Pittsburgh Food Bank will occur in the coming weeks, and Greater Washington County Food Bank will provide follow up details once all facts are known.

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