Fresh Fridays will again offer free produce to Hilltop residents
April 3, 2018
Recognizing many of the Hilltop communities were food deserts with limited access to fresh produce the Hilltop Alliance piloted a program with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank (GPCFB) to get produce on to the menus of many Hilltop residents.
In October 2012, the Alliance utilized funding from the Birmingham Foundation in partnering with the GPCFB to provide up to 35 pounds of produce to area families each month for eight months a year. Volunteers were recruited from the St. John Vianney Food Pantry, the Brashear Association and Hilltop Alliance member organizations and the free produce give-a-way was born.
The first Fresh Fridays on the Hilltop distributed more than 6,800 pounds of food including onions, peppers, potatoes, corn, squash, eggplant, tomatoes and bagged salad to 204 households, representing almost 850 people.
Participants "shop" through the distribution, choosing if they would like an available item or not. Often, the GPCFB will provide recipes for available items.
"The guidelines to qualify are simple," Aaron Sukenik, executive director of the Hilltop Alliance explained. "Those who live in the 15203, 15210, 15211 and parts of 15227 and have a family income of 150 percent of the poverty line qualify. Additionally, anyone on any kind of assistance, including SSI, Social Security Disability, unemployment or others may qualify."
Income guidelines start at below $17,655 for a single-person household and go up, adding $6,240 for each additional person.
Those participating are not asked for proof of income should bring proof of zip code residency such as a rent receipt, utility bill receipt, mortgage payment receipt, valid state ID, or a valid driver's license.
Mr. Sukenik said the Fresh Fridays produce distribution is "rain or shine" in the parking lot of St. John Vianney Church on Allen Street in Allentown, even though the church has been closed for several years now.
"St. Mary of the Mount has been an advocate for us to keep the food distribution going in the church parking lot," he added. The Alliance wouldn't be able to do it each month without the volunteers from the St. John Vianney Food Pantry, Brashear Association and member organizations. "They help out tremendously."
Mr. Sukenik noted last year, during individual monthly distributions, between five and ten percent of Allentown's population participated with the produce distribution. Overall, Fresh Fridays serves a little over one percent of the Hilltop's 12 neighborhoods.
In 2017, more than 4,000 people in 1,650 households benefited from the free produce.
The produce doesn't come without a cost to the Alliance thought. Through an arrangement with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, the Alliance purchases the food given away in the distributions. Funding for the program comes through the Allentown Neighborhood Partnership Program (NPP), a state Department of Economic Development tax credit program, with support from the Birmingham Foundation.
"The Allentown NPP provides a sustainable path for the Fresh Fridays program," Mr. Sukenik said. "Over the past five years, Fresh Fridays has helped feed more than 21,250 people in almost 9,000 households. It would be difficult to do it without our NPP partners and volunteer supporters."
Fresh Fridays on the Hilltop takes place on the second Friday of each month from April to November in the St. John Vianney Church parking lot on Allen Street in Allentown. Distribution begins about 3:30 p.m. and continues while supplies last.
Those attending are encouraged to bring bags, boxes or rolling carts as they will not be provided.
For more information about the free produce distribution, call the Hilltop Alliance at 412-586-5807 or visit their website: http://www.pghhilltopalliance.com/ or on FaceBook at http://www.facebook.com/HilltopAlliance.