Just about four months after the Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry’s move into a larger facility, the $1.5 million endowment from Jewish community members Eric C. Cooper and Naomi Weisberg Siegel couldn’t have come at a better time.
“When we moved to the new building, we assumed higher operating costs,” said Food Pantry Director Becky Abrams. “We are seeing more people, giving out more food, purchasing more food and fresh produce to make sure we give clients adequate food each month.”
For Siegel, the gift comes from her devotion to the pantry after years of volunteer work.
“I was pretty much unaware; I thought Squirrel Hill was fairly well to do. But when I saw that hunger was not only there, but that [the pantry’s services] were desperately needed, I was taken aback,” said Siegel, who started volunteering after her daughters began exploring organizations to donate their time to for school.
Cooper, founder of FORE Systems, Inc. and a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, and Siegel, who founded the bakery Sweet! last year, have long been supporters of charitable causes. Profits from Sweet! are donated to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. In 2008, the couple’s Cooper-Siegel Family Foundation pledged millions to build the Cooper-Siegel Community Library, which is expected to open in Fox Chapel in May.
“It seems to me that if you don’t have food, almost nothing else matters. If you’ve got a hungry child, you can’t benefit from good libraries; your child won’t do well in school,” said Siegel.
Abrams said her relationship with Siegel began about five years ago.
“I learned how interested she was in hunger as we worked together,” said Abrams. “It seemed like a natural fit that she and Eric would be our lead donors because of their strong belief in the fight against hunger.”
Siegel and her husband’s giving comes from her sense of “responsibility to help improve the world,” she said. “It’s a privilege.”
The Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry’s expansion is larger than square footage. Since the move, the Pantry has served 234 new individuals from 93 households.
“We’re serving 750 people each month,” said Abrams. “Just a few years ago, we were at that number per year.”
Clients are also now able to pick which foods they need from stocked shelves, instead of receiving pre-prepared food packages.
“We’ve had so much positive feedback,” said Abrams. “Our clients take what they need and don’t need to worry about returning the food they don’t use. In the first month [operating this way], we got more praise and hugs from clients than I did in my first 4.5 years. It’s a change for the good.”
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)