South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

St. John Vianney Church closure could impact food pantries


As of now, the food pantry at Saint John Vianney Parish, and Fresh Fridays on the Hilltop, will continue at the parish site until a decision is rendered otherwise.

 That is according to volunteer Mary Fleisner, who coordinates the food pantry, and Aaron Sukenik, executive director of the Hilltop Alliance, which operates the Fresh Fridays on the Hilltop free produce distribution.

 The temporary assurances were in response to concerns generated by the recent announcement by the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh that the parish and church building will close after Mass on Sunday, April 3. Mounting debt and declining attendance were cited in the decision.

 But what happens to the free food distributions after April 3?

 In the Jan. 23 press release announcing the closing, Bishop David A. Zubik writes that the parish territory, which covers 10 neighborhoods and communities, will be divided among three neighboring parishes: St. Basil, St. Mary of the Mount, and Prince of Peace.

 He also wrote that a transition team “will also work to ensure the continuation of parish-sponsored services to the Hilltop neighborhoods, including the food bank …”

 But Ms. Fleisner said without the church, where will they gather and who will and pay the bills?

 “When the church closes, the food pantry will probably close unless we can find space, and someone to pay the electric and gas, and gas for the truck, which the church always did,” Ms. Fleisner said.

 The next food pantry will be held from noon to 2 p.m. on Feb. 8 in the hall beneath the church.

 Registration is required for qualified families within the pantry’s distribution area.

 Operated by the parish, the pantry is held twice per month on the second and fourth Mondays.

 Ms. Fleisner said the January 25 pantry drew more than 104 individuals in need of food for themselves and their families. Recipients receive a bag with two vegetables, two fruits, produce, bread, and dessert. Last week, the main course, which varies, was fish.

Funding to buy the food is from grants and donations.

 “It is sad,” she said of the potential closing of the over 20-year service.

 “A lot of people will go hungry, or to another food bank,” she said.

 Anyone interested in volunteering a site should contact the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, which must grant approval of a new venue.

 Fresh Fridays, or free fresh produce distributions, takes place every second Friday except in winter as it is held outdoors.

 The next Fresh Friday is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on April 8 in the church parking lot, 823 Climax St., Allentown.

 “At this point, we’re really not sure whether or not the location will still be available for us, but the event will continue, and in Allentown, and a matter of a couple of blocks away if not there,” Mr. Sukenik said.

 The event is provided by the Hilltop Alliance, Allentown CDC, Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, St. John Vianney Church and food pantry, and the Brashear Association.

He said from July 2014 to June 2015 during the Fresh Fridays’ program, about 80,000 pounds of fresh produce were distributed to 1,812 qualified households. From July 2015 to Nov. 2015, about 50,000 pounds of produce were distributed.

 “We source our produce from the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, and in doing so are required to have an affiliated food pantry, which is St. John Vianney.

 “We will have an affiliated food pantry regardless of where we are,” Mr. Sukenik said.

 Tracy Frank, family services coordinator for the Brashear Association, said the Brashear Association’s food pantry feeds about 1,000 people, and could rise if the St. John Vianney food pantry closes.

 The Brashear Association’s pantry provides food and other commodities to low-income individuals and families at the Brashear Center, 2005 Sarah St., and the Henry Kaufmann Neighborhood House, 2201 Salisbury St.

 The pantry, which is more than 30 years old, distributes about 58,000 pounds of food annually.

She said recipients are supposed to attend only one pantry, and are discouraged from going to more than one.

“We are beginning to see some families from St. John Vianney plan ahead, and expect those numbers to increase,” she said.


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