Above: The shelves at NSCM’s food pantry at 1601 Brighton Rd. (Photo by Kelsey Shea).

The shelves of Northside Common Ministries food pantry are nearly empty.

There’s some ketchup, canned corn, beef stew and salad dressing and a smattering of other cans, but for the most part when the pantry reopens the next morning there will be little dry and canned food to choose from.

Despite being the largest food pantry in the county, Jay Poliziani, executive director of NSCM, said that their Northside pantry faces the same issues as many other pantries and food banks across the country who are dealing with a rising demand and a smaller supply of food.  

Poliziani estimates that two years ago the pantry served about 750 families each month. In 2012, they now serve nearly a thousand families.

Though the need is rising, he said, the supplies are not following suit. In June of 2011 the pantry received over twelve thousand pounds of food, while May of 2012 saw less than ten thousand pounds.

Poliziani noted that not only is the supply and demand changing, but the demographic is
“slightly different” as well. Most new patrons of the food pantry, he said, are recently unemployed and struggling to make ends meet.

Federal funding cuts also mean that the NSCM now has to pay for canned and dried food that they had received free of charge from the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank previously, like peanut butter, jelly and dried boxed food.

Poliziani estimates that the amount needed to cover those new costs could run up to $40,000 each year, and that their supply of dried and canned food is particular low.

“We just don’t have a financial plan for that,” he said, noting that the Food Bank is not the “bad guy,” but rather adjusting to their own constraints as well.

Lisa Scales, executive director of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food bank, estimates that there is a 33 percent increase in households that need assistance.

Moving forward, Poliziani hopes that the upcoming holidays will help replenish their supply, but is also interested in engaging new groups to help their organization’s need.

“Our hope is that we can sort of make new connections and reach a younger demographic,” said Poliziani. “People want to help, but they don’t always know how.”

He noted that the Northside community “always steps up in a time of need.”

Darlene Rushing, a Central Northside resident and member of Community House Presbyterian Church, heard about the severe food shortage in a casual conversation with a neighbor outside her home on Resaca Place and decided to get her church community involved.

Though Community House has always worked with NSCM, the members have stepped up their efforts recently to address the shortage.

“I think as a Northsider, I’ve taken for granted that our food pantry is always going to be there as a resource,” said Rushing who said she sees families lining up outside the building on weekday mornings. “It’s really difficult for me to sit down to a full table when I know there are neighbors, not just out there, but next door and down the street, that are going hungry that night.”

Rushing said Community House members have been collecting food and monetary donations to drop off at the pantry each week, but are looking to do more.

While Rushing acknowledged that individuals pulling unused cans from the back of their cabinets is an important part of restocking the pantry’s shelves, she said that there are other ways to help using connections that neighbors have with their employers or their acquaintances.

Though plans are still in the works, Community House hopes to begin smaller food drives in work places or collect unsold items from bakeries and restaurants.

“We know there’s food being wasted out there,” said Rushing. “We want to put it to better use.”

To make a donation or organize a food drive for NSCM, contact Cynthia Washington at 412-323-1170