Advocates call for Pittsburgh $10 million to support groups serving the hungry

Advocates call for Pittsburgh $10 million to support groups serving the hungry

Food equality groups — including the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, Just Harvest and the Community Food Bank of Greater Pittsburgh — are calling for the city to do more to support residents struggling to get fresh, healthy food. More than 30 speakers joined an after-the-agenda session held in City Council chambers on Wednesday to advocate for the $10 million Food Justice Fund.

Defenders of the fund argued that it could support efforts to expand urban agriculture, develop community markets with affordable products, create resources for nutrition education, and expand food organizations. Ebony Lunsford-Evans, owner of FarmerGirl Eb and director of Out of the End Inc. , during a press conference Wednesday that a fresh, black-owned food market in Elliott should not be an anomaly.

“I can’t be the only one,” Lunsford Evans said. “I’m here educating our young people right down to the old… in the black community, we can’t recognize them [healthy] food.”

The Out of the End program educates young people about urban farming and how to grow healthy food. The organization is one of many that the proposed Food Justice Fund could support.

Xena Scott, a retired Homewood resident, called on the city to do more to promote a variety of grocery stores throughout Pittsburgh. Scott said she’s seen affordable groceries—including Kroger’s, A&P, Loblaws, and IGA—and have left Pittsburgh’s eastern neighborhoods over the years. “We have the giant eagle left. … They are not the least expensive grocery store in our city.”

Ten other food stock groups were at the press conference Wednesday, including Pittsburgh Food Stock Ambassadors, Gro Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group, Berry Hilltop Citizens Council, and Penn State Representative Dan Frankel. Some food equality groups have been lobbying for the Food Justice Fund since the city released a report in 2020 identifying 23 food-insecure districts.

In a letter sent to Mayor Ed Jenny and city council members earlier this month, Tierra Collins, a food stock ambassador for the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, argued that less expensive food at the grocery store is often less healthy. She spoke about her experience learning how to garden to prevent over-reliance on processed foods while holding a can of Campbell’s Chunky Soup. “This comes in food bank boxes. We can’t eat this. She said it was high in sodium.

“Being able to go out in the back of our house and grow fresh fruits and vegetables” was crucial to Collins and her children. The city called for making sure other families could feed their children with fresh ingredients.

Food equality groups are suggesting the city use federal pandemic aid to create the Food Justice Fund.

“It is time for the city to seize the opportunity of this historic influx of money to address the longstanding racial inequality in access to healthy food and the profound damage it has caused,” said Carlin Lamberto, interim executive director of the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council. “Our top priority is the city council’s establishment of the Food Justice Fund to support urban agriculture, small business development, access to healthy foods, training and education, and emergency food distribution.”

A spokesperson for Mayor Jenny’s office clarified that while the city has yet to spend a significant portion of the $335 million it received from the federal government, the money has already been talked about.

“As is currently the case, there are no unearmarked funds from ARPA that will be available for this fund,” said Maria Montaño. “While the city has a significant amount of unspent ARPA dollars – these funds are bookmarked for specific projects.”

The city could reallocate federal pandemic aid to the fund, but it would come at the expense of other projects. Gainey’s management recently said that the budget comments were Focuses heavily on infrastructure projects.

Wednesday’s press conference was preceded by a post-agenda session in council chambers on food inequality across Pittsburgh. The session was chaired by a member of the District Council 7, Deep Gross. Council members heard from over 30 speakers, all of whom supported the creation of the Food Justice Fund.

Councilors Bobby Wilson and Erica Strasberger, who represent parts of the North Side and the East Ends, called for continued conversations about engaging community groups working on food inequality and what the council’s role could be in addressing the issue. Strassburger suggested the city partner with Pittsburgh Public Schools and Allegheny County to find solutions.

Gross noted that investing in food stocks is a good investment “in our neighborhoods.”

“An investment in our food system is an investment in our jobs and job creation,” Gross said. “It invests in our educational success and it invests primarily in the future success of the city as a whole.”

Although the Gainey administration doesn’t seem inclined to reallocate federal aid toward the Food Justice Fund, Montaño said she looks forward to hearing more residents about their budget priorities.

“We hope to continue to have this strong conversation about our priorities as a city,” Montaño said. “We invite everyone to an upcoming budget meeting to learn more about the process and to give us feedback.”

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