As the transition continues with Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank taking over management of Washington County’s food pantries, one of the local directors is hoping for more information as the process moves forward.
Jeannine Motycki, who is the director of Charleroi’s food pantry, spoke during Thursday morning’s county commissioners meeting asking about how the agreement will work with Pittsburgh as it takes over food distribution for the Greater Washington County Food Bank in July.
Her main concern was that Charleroi does not have a “brick and mortar” pantry and instead relies on the Washington food bank delivery truck to bring items during the monthly distribution events, and then take the unused food back to its headquarters in Centerville. A Pittsburgh food bank truck is expected to deliver food to each pantry, but probably wouldn’t be able to stay for Charleroi’s “truck to trunk” distribution events.
Charleroi’s arrangement is unusual since the other eight food pantries in Washington County have physical locations where they can store food for later distribution dates.
“We don’t have the money in Charleroi to pay for this,” Motycki said, alluding to finding a physical location. “I want to know why this was done.”
The transition is happening after the commissioners voted 2-1 in December to redirect $280,000 in state and federal funding to the Pittsburgh nonprofit instead of the Washington County food bank. Commissioners Diana Irey Vaughan and Nick Sherman voted in favor of reallocating the money to Pittsburgh, while Commissioner Larry Maggi voted against the change.
“I think this was a horrible, horrible mistake,” Motycki said.
Motycki also challenged Sherman to “roll up his sleeves” and come to Charleroi’s next distribution event. Sherman and Maggi helped at Tuesday’s drive-through distribution event at the Washington County Fairgrounds that was organized by the Pittsburgh food bank, and they appeared interested in assisting at other ones if asked.
Irey Vaughan, who attended Thursday’s meeting through videoconferencing, said the Pittsburgh food bank held transition meetings earlier this year, but she offered to hold more over the next two months if pantry directors want additional information before the changes goes into effect July 1.
Human Services Director Kim Rogers echoed that sentiment and spoke at length with Motycki after the meeting trying to understand her concerns and see how the county and Pittsburgh food bank can help. She said Pittsburgh food bank workers held transition meetings with the pantry directors in January and February, although Motycki did not attend. Rogers also explained that Pittsburgh will offer grants for pantries to purchase coolers, freezers, dollies and pallet jacks to help with food distribution.
“We want solidarity. We want communication. We want unity and to focus on the mission of feeding people with food insecurities,” Rogers said.
She added that Pittsburgh’s food bank is encouraging pantries to have physical locations in their communities to help with food drives.
Motycki, who is also a Charleroi councilwoman, responded that she has struggled to find a permanent location despite numerous vacant buildings dotting the heart of the Mon Valley borough.
Rogers acknowledged that each pantry has a different plan in how to best serve their community, and suggested it might be helpful for the Pittsburgh food bank to meet with individual directors and their volunteers during the transition to see what system would work best for them. Rogers said most pantry directors have been happy with Pittsburgh’s transition plans and the flexibility it offers when requesting food orders.
Pittsburgh food bank spokeswoman Beth Burrell said they’re interested in holding one-on-one meetings over the next few weeks if pantry managers still have concerns. She added they’re available at any time for questions when they arise through the transition process.
“We’re always open for communication,” Burrell said.
Pittsburgh announced earlier this week that it will hold a drive-up food distribution event in Charleroi from 9 to 11 a.m. July 8 at the Mon Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce’s parking lot at 1 Chamber Plaza in Charleroi. Motycki was unsure whether that event would replace their distribution date, which is typically the second Thursday of each month, or if it would supplement what they’re already doing.