By University of Pittsburgh

Jamie Ducar, director of community engagement in Pitt’s Office of Community and Governmental Relations, awaits recipients at the first of six Farmers to Families food box distribution events organized in collaboration with Compass, Pitt’s dining services provider; food services distributor Sysco Corp., and an array of community organizations. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)

Masks couldn’t hide the smiles all around as volunteers loaded boxes of food into cars, vans and wire shopping carts in a distribution effort that provided 5,000 free meal kits to neighbors in need in and around the city.

Pitt’s Dining Services and the Office of Community and Governmental Relations (CGR) partnered with Compass, Pitt’s dining services provider; food services distributor Sysco Corp., and an array of community organizations to hand out boxes provided through the USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box program.

It began on a sunny fall afternoon as 11 pallets stacked high with boxes were wheeled off a shiny silver box truck onto the Schenley Plaza sidewalk on Oct. 21—a delivery of meal kits for 400 families, first-come, first-served.

The scene played out across five other distribution sites: in Homewood on Oct. 21; the Hill District on Oct. 24; and in Carrick, Hazelwood and Homestead/Munhall on Oct. 29.

Pitt student and staff volunteers loaded the food into cars, vans and pickup trucks, and stacked boxes carefully into folding shopping carts that recipients who arrived on foot pulled along behind.

The meal kits, made up of meat, dairy and produce boxes, plus a gallon of milk, are designed to provide enough food for 10 family meals. Items inside included chicken, butter, cheese, eggs, apples, potatoes and sweet potatoes.

“Pitt is committed to partnerships that strengthen our communities,” said Jamie Ducar, director of community engagement in CGR. “The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the needs of so many people right here in our region as well as across the world. Together we are working to ensure that our neighbors have access to fresh, wholesome food in this time of emergency.”

Danielle Gallaway, Compass’ senior executive chef at Pitt, organized delivery and drop-off logistics. “Working with Sysco and other local partners and community groups has been an amazing opportunity to get needed support directly to our local communities,” she said.

“It’s a benefit to both sides, the farmers and the families receiving substantial groceries. Having our everyday resources at Compass Group USA, from marketing support, refrigeration and trucks to assist in transportation of product is why we had the ability to commit to such a large volume of distribution.”

The USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program aims not only to help hungry families, but also to assist farmers and food distributors who have been affected by the pandemic.

The USDA program is purchasing up to $4 billion in fresh produce, dairy and meat products from American producers—food that ordinarily would have been sold to schools, restaurants and bulk purchasers. Because the pandemic has reduced that demand, the food instead is being packaged by distributors into family-sized boxes that are distributed for free.

The impact of the Pitt community’s effort was apparent as neighbors departed with their groceries.

“This is really nice,” one Oakland recipient said quietly to her companion as they walked away with a shopping cart loaded high. “It’s really a blessing.”

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