New mural’s message makes Squirrel Hill Food Pantry even more appetizing
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New mural’s message makes Squirrel Hill Food Pantry even more appetizing

The Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry Tribute Wall, created by local artist James Simon, “will inspire hope.” (Photo by Elizabeth Waickman, Jewish Family & Children's Service)

Three-hundred and sixty-five days of artistry will come to life when generosity meets art at the Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry Tribute Wall unveiling on Sunday, July 20.

After a year of working on a glass and ceramic mural, artist James Simon’s art will find its home on the walls of the pantry’s reception area.

“The Tribute Wall will honor the generous financial supporters who have helped the pantry serve families and individuals throughout our community, and it will inspire hope in the clients and volunteers who visit us,” said Aryeh Sherman, president and CEO of the Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Pittsburgh, parent agency of the pantry.

To find Simon, the JF&CS team put together a small selection committee to look for local talent to provide design concepts.

“James instantly fell in love with us and understood the message we wanted [to spread],” Sherman, who has been with JF&CS for 15 years, said. “His art is delightful and just joy.”

The idea was to create a spin on a traditional wall of plaques. By using artistic elements, in addition to the names of those who help to make the pantry run smoothly, the hierarchy of the givers versus receivers is blended, thereby crafting a truly community-centered piece, said Sherman. “[The artistic vision] is to avoid a feeling of a handout.”

The mural was created on panels — should the pantry location change, the art is transportable — and currently sits covered in the pantry’s reception area to create a buzz.

Having art as a greeter in the pantry stemmed from JF&CS’s own reception area, where art greets supporters. “People feel comfortable, and it creates a good environment,” Sherman said.

Similar to its other budgetary needs, funds for the mural were gifted by one local family, and the commissioned piece is now property of the Jewish Family & Children’s Service. In fact, Sherman said, 70 percent of the donations for the pantry come from individual donors who want to ensure that the food is there for those who need it.

Scheduled and emergency kosher and non kosher offerings are available to those who meet certain income requirements in and around the 15217 ZIP code. The pantry also helps to connect area resources to individuals to address longer-term stability concerns.

Each year, Sherman said, the pantry serves some 1,300 people and offers a space for about 900 volunteers to give back to the community. The location also serves as a meeting place for many JF&CS get-togethers.

One does not need to be Jewish to find support.

The local pantry is a member of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and changed its 1998 founding name of the Squirrel Hill Community Kosher SuperPantry to the Squirrel Hill Food Pantry in 2010, better reflecting those in the community who frequent the facility regardless of religion, ethnicity, age, race, gender and sexual orientation. Still, the location is one of the few organizations offering kosher food, making it a unique space for Squirrel Hill and shoppers in surrounding neighborhoods.

The pantry itself feels like a grocery store, Sherman said, pointing to a shopping list made available to shoppers of the pantry “so that clients can choose things they want and not take things they don’t need or want.”

The open-house tribute from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at 828 Hazelwood Ave. will offer light refreshments and self-guided tours, in addition to meet-the-artist times of 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Sherman wants everyone to come out and celebrate.

“We want to recognize the people who give to the pantry,” he said. “This piece recognizes these folks.”

(Bee Schindler can be reached at beeschindler@gmail.com.)

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