Though many people think those in need just drop by the local food bank and get a bag of groceries, in fact Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank employs state-of-the-art systems for keeping inventory, taking orders, and tracking more than 20 million pounds of food from various sources every year.
Each of the Food Bank's member agencies and affiliate food banks order product for the people they serve based on the Food Bank's available inventory. The quantity of food each agency orders is determined by the number of people served, how often distributions are held, plus practical elements like storage space, refrigeration, and in the case of purchased product, funds. No donated food is sold, but the Food Bank purchases some food that is difficult to get donated, like eggs and meat, and then allows agencies to purchase that food at significantly reduced prices.
Food Bank staff members take orders from 350+ agencies, which are then "picked" from the warehouse, assembled, and made ready for distribution. This may involve delivery by the Food Bank, agencies picking up their orders, or delivery to smaller food banks, known as partner distribution organizations (PDO's), which then distribute the product to their agencies. Counting agencies served by the PDO's, the number of agencies the Food Bank serves is actually closer to 600.
But the Food Bank continues to adapt to changing times and circumstances, and our Strategic Plan calls for us to increase both the amount of food distributed, and the number of people we serve.
Produce to People (P2P) is the Food Bank's direct distribution program. On Saturdays, Food Bank trucks and volunteers visit different low-income neighborhoods and simply give food away, around 25,000 pounds each time. This helps people in need get more food than their agency might be able to order, helps the Food Bank distribute more time-sensitive and/or excess product that we might otherwise not acquire, and helps many people who may not be officially registered at a food pantry (recipients are screened for income guidelines).
The Farm Stand Program has been in operation for 13 years. The Food Bank identifies neighborhoods where access to fresh produce is limited or non-existent, and works with the community to set up a Farm Stand, much like a farmers market. Each Farm Stand is sponsored by a local organization and run by volunteers from that neighborhood. The Food Bank helps make the connections, orders the produce (locally grown if at all possible), and advances the funds for start-up equipment like tents, signage and tables. Farm Stands benefit local farmers and encourage the consumption of more fruits and vegetables for healthy eating. They also serve low-income people by their accessibility, affordability, and by accepting alternate forms of payment, including WIC vouchers, EBT (Food Stamps), and Farmers Market Nutrition Coupons, as well as cash.