Pass the popcorn, please.
The Squirrel Hill Food Pantry will move into the former Hollywood Video store, 828 Hazelwood Ave., this fall, giving the city’s only source of kosher food for the needy greater floor space for its staples and other services.
And the pantry plans to modernize its operating model to make it more user friendly for clients.
To help support the pantry’s operations, the defunct video store’s film
library — about 7,000 DVDs in all — will go on sale Sunday, May 2, noon to 3 p.m.; and Monday, May 3, 3 to 6 p.m., at the pantry’s parent organization, Jewish Family & Children’s Service, 5743 Bartlett St., Squirrel Hill.
“Flicks for Food,” as the sale is called, is being made possible by Prudential Realty, the owners of the Hollywood Video building and the pantry’s future landlord, which donated the video collection.
“We actually have been talking about a move for quite a while,” said Becky Abrams, director of the pantry. “We had a task force that we put together of stakeholders and community volunteer to come together and look at the future of our food pantry in light of growth.”
In a dubious distinction, the number of new clients using the pantry has grown 60 percent over the past five years, according to Abrams. The percentage is based on monthly tracking of new clients.
“This was the best location we thought we could find to serve our clients in the most appropriate way,” she said. “Not only will it expand the space, but it will allow for growth for future clients — people we’re not reaching right now.”
By agreement with the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank, the pantry will remain in the 15217 ZIP code.
The new space will give the pantry 1,800 square feet for the pantry, not including office space. That dwarfs the current facility on Forward Avenue, which has 1,000 square feet, including the office.
The new pantry will have a new operation model as well. Instead of volunteers bagging groceries for each client, users may make their own selections, much like a supermarket.
“The shopping model could be a lot more appealing to people who haven’t used our model in the past,” Abrams said. “It’s all about respect; it’s all about dignity. You are being empowered to come and chose the food that meets the needs of your family.”
And unlike other food pantries, the Squirrel Hill Food Pantry will do more “intake” for new clients, identifying other social services they may need; some of those services will be available on site.
Among those services are health screening and crisis assistance.
“When a client comes to us for food a lot of times they’ve reached a point in their life where they need so many other services and assistance, but their most urgent need at that time is food,” Abrams said.
“We do a complete intake with a social worker,” she added. “This is different from other pantries; they don’t have that capacity and they’ll just meet the need for food, but they’re not connected with a larger social service like we are connected with JF&CS.”
Aryeh Sherman, executive director of JF&CS, said the new location, by virtue of its location, off-street parking and proximity to the bus lines, will be accessible to its core clients.
Since the pantry will be near the Squirrel Hill Health Center, it will also enhance cooperation between those two agencies, he noted.
In fact, he said, many more agencies want to cooperate with the pantry now that it is expanding its space for services other than food distribution.
“This facility will allow us to collaborate with more organizations,” Sherman said, “more organizations that have expressed an interest in working with us in working with vulnerable populations.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)