Soon, the Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry will serve the 15217 Zip code in every way.
The Jewish Family & Children’s Service has announced that the pantry will begin offering nonkosher, as well as kosher, food to its clients when it makes the move to its new facility on Hazelwood Avenue in November.
“We’re still going to be supervised by the Vaad,” JF&CS spokeswoman Kelly O’Brien said referencing the local rabbinic kosher-supervising group, “but we will have a nonkosher food offering as well. We serve everyone [who qualifies] in 15217 [Jew and non-Jew like], whether they keep kosher or not; that’s always been our model.’’
With the change in policy, the pantry can accept all food donations, instead of referring noncontributions to other facilities. And it will be able to purchase kosher and non-kosher foodstuffs from the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank in Duquesne at discounted prices.
“It will increase our buying power,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien said the pantry is being careful not to estrange its clients who keep kosher.
“We’ve had some good conversations with the Vaad and to make sure we really communicate with our families that do kosher that will to continue, to meet their needs and serve them adequately.
The change follows a two-month survey of about 300 clients the pantry conducted through July and August. The results showed just 35 percent of our households using the service are kosher.
“That did surprise me,” said Becky Abrams, director of the pantry. “I thought it [the percentage of kosher households using the pantry] was more, but I wouldn’t put a percentage on it; we’ve been growing so rapidly.”
The results did convince the staff it was time to change the model for the pantry.
“We are going to maintain our relationship with the Vaad to have access over our kosher area,” she said. “We’ve met with the rabbis of the Vaad and they were surpportive of our moving forward and keeping them as oversight over our kosher area.”
The survey was confined to clients who actually came into the pantry during July and August. “We asked every person who came in if they kept kosher or not and let them know it would not affect in any way their service,” Abrams said.
The pantry also contacted kosher food banks in other cities, and discovered a couple were either considering offering nonkosher groceries themselves or and had already made the switch.
“They’re facing the same constraints we are,” Abrams said, “they’re serving everyone in the community and they’re stretching their budgets and they don’t want to turn anyone away.”
One of those pantries is Jewish Family Services Kosher Food Pantry in West Hartford, Conn.
Back in Pittsburgh, the future site for the pantry on Hazelwood Avenue is still under interior construction pending the Nov. 1 opening.
The new facility will have 1,800 square feet of pantry space — double the current space on Forward Avenue — and 4,500 square feet for other uses including a waiting area, community meeting room and office space for the pantry staff as well as the Jewish Assistance Fund and Refugee Service, which also are moving there.
The layout of the pantry is still in flux, Abrams said, but in addition to food, it will include shelf space for nonfood items such as toiletries.
The pantry also plans to introduce a monthly program to provide pet food — called Chow Wagon — with the help of Animal Friends.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)