South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Al Lowe
Contributing Writer 

St. John Vianney Food Bank volunteers helping out in the Hilltop neighborhoods


Packing supplies at the St. John Vianney Food Bank are Michele Cunko, Melanie Smith and Billie Stepanovich. The food bank is open noon to 2 p.m. on the second and fourth Mondays where people from Allentown, Beltzhoover and Mount Oliver can receive food, clothes and vaccinations.

Mary Fleisner, director of the St. John Vianney Food Bank, is a retired Port Authority bus driver, so she knows how to work efficiently and to help a lot of people.

The food bank is open noon to 2 p.m. on the second and fourth Mondays and people where Allentown, Beltzhoover and Mount Oliver can receive food, clothes and vaccinations. It is all free of charge.

Help from the 25 volunteers is free, too. None of them, including Ms. Fleisner, gets paid.

"I highly recommend this to low income people," Larue Bey, of Knoxville, one of the visitors on March 26, said.

"I just get what I need. I wish more people knew about it. More people should use it," recipient Danielle Fest, Knoxville, said.

"The economy is in a bad way. More and more people are losing jobs. We are there for them. We are there to meet their needs," Ms. Fleisner said.

"We are a very busy food bank. We appreciate donations from Shop ‘n Save and Giant Eagle and the help from three grants. The church is kind enough to give us the needed space. And we couldn't pull this off if we only had three or four volunteers," she said.

Recipients that day received: meat, cereal, canned goods, pasta and sauce, peanut butter, eggs, vegetables, desserts, frozen pizza and toiletries. Coffee and pastries were offered to the more than 170 people who came that day.

"We will keep going as long as we have money to purchase food," she said.

Applicants need to show proof of address and income and I.D. for household members.

Chuck Thompson of Arlington was the "announcements" man, welcoming recipients and explaining the available programs. "People get new clothes here and because of that they might get a new job. They will remember us for a long time," he said.

The hectic atmosphere was much busier than what is usually found in downtown Pittsburgh department stores.

One mother instructed her small daughter to stay with her grandmother at the center while she went out to the car. However, the child did the opposite of what was requested and followed behind her mother as she went outside to the parking lot.

Volunteers from the Mylan School of Pharmacy Center for Pharmacy Care at Duquesne University made their monthly visit to the food bank.

"We're serving an underserved population and we do a lot of health education," said Dr. Robert Laux Jr., assistant pharmacy professor. The university's mission is to let the students learn by doing, he said. "We visit six food banks scattered all over the city."

The students check cholesterol levels, take blood pressure, give free vaccinations (with the type varying depending on the time of year) and screen for osteoporosis. They do receive grades on how well they perform their duties. They are sixth year pharmacy students and are undertaking the last year of the program.

Student Dave Gilday, who lives in Uptown, said he thought the project was "a great way to interact directly with the public."

He is currently working at the Swissvale CVS and already has a job lined up at the Boston, Mass. CVS after graduation.

Don Froehlich, a former Mount Oliver councilman for 40 years, recruits volunteers.

Some visitors sampled beans and greens over rice prepared by Paul Chiarulli, a nutrition educator with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. He said his demonstrations "show everyone how they are able to use the healthy foods that they get here. I have been getting a very positive reaction. They like the recipes and they like the samples."

Mr. Chiarulli makes irregular visits to the St. John Vianney Food Bank.

The food bank does deliver to the handicapped. Some volunteers pick up food for residents of the Caligiuri High Rise since some qualified recipients living there have mobility problems.

"Overall, I think we are making a big difference in people's lives," Mr. Thompson said.


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