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Nonprofits recognized for helping Pittsburghers through the pandemic

In this photo made on Dec. 18, 2009, Robb Griska pushes a well padded anesthesiology machine destined for Cuba into a truck at the warehouse of Global Links in Pittsburgh.
Keith Srakocic
A Global Links staffer moves medical supplies.

Many local nonprofits stepped up and expanded their services to help people in need over the course of the pandemic — despite limited resources. The Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership honored 10 organizations and leaders on Wednesday for their responses to demands for racial equity and distribution of emergency essentials, like food and personal protective equipment.

According to the partnership, local nonprofits have continued to demonstrate a strong commitment to supporting their communities.

In March 2020, groups like Global Links quickly began to distribute PPE, diapers and other necessary sanitary products. That was possible in part because of their existing relationships with the people they help, said Colleen Young, the director of the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership.

“They … were able to very quickly distribute those much-needed items that, as you remember, were hard to find at the beginning of the pandemic, to make sure that those who needed them most had access to them,” she said.

Global Links received the award for Excellence in Collective Impact. The organization typically focuses on international medical aid and recovery efforts but started a local program four years ago. Now, they also help support western Pennsylvania nonprofits and distribute health and hygiene products to people who need them. Both programs prepared the organization for the pandemic, said executive director Angela Garcia.

“We had the advantage of 30 years of experience responding to disasters in very resource poor communities, so we were actually going into the pandemic recognizing it as a public health disaster,” she said. “And disasters always cause strain or break logistics and supply chains.”

When borders closed and ports turned into international traffic jams, Global Links expanded their local programming. Prior to the pandemic, the organization worked with 30 local nonprofits and donated about $250,000 worth of medical supplies annually—just a portion of the $3 million they donated globally.

By the end of 2020, Global Links had worked with nearly 1,200 human service providers, childcare facilities and low-resource schools and donated about $2.5 million worth of products including disinfectants, masks and cleaning supplies.

“We had no idea the extent we were going to do that, but we knew that we had expertise and the tools to do so,” Garcia said. “Our nonprofit peers needed that so that they could focus on providing the health and human services and case management and care that they were in a position to provide, and to do so as safely as possible.”

Community Kitchen Pittsburgh, which provides culinary training and a transitional jobs program for people coming out of incarceration, received GPNP’s award for Excellence in Strategy Adjustment.

The organization pivoted from catering and cooking for in-person gatherings to making packaged meals for students, families and community members.

“We said ‘yes’ to everything,” said Jennifer Flanagan, the organization’s founder and executive director.

Participants in the culinary training and transitional jobs programs began making 1,000 meals a day for people in the Glen Hazel and Hazelwood areas, where Community Kitchen Pittsburgh is located.

According to Flanagan, the organization has made more than 600,000 meals over course of the pandemic.

UrbanKind Institute also won an award for Excellence in Innovation. Seven individuals were honored as Emerging Leaders or Cross-Sector Champions.

Young hopes nonprofit workers will use the recognition as a way to acknowledge their good work and recharge—something nonprofits usually don’t have time for.

“We’re not finished with this pandemic yet, and we need to reenergize in order to get through the amount of work that is left to be done,” she said.

Global Links, Community Kitchen Pittsburgh and UrbanKind Institute received a small cash prize with their awards, which the partnership recommends they use to celebrate their staff. Both Global Links and Community Kitchen Pittsburgh said they plan to do just that before they return to work addressing the social inequities exacerbated by the pandemic.

Julia Zenkevich is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at