In a parking lot, a line of people carrying laundry baskets and empty shopping bags curls around a brick church building in rural Somerset County, southeast of Pittsburgh. This is farm country. But a lot of people here don’t have access to fresh produce.
People haven’t driven here to go to church. Today, the parking lot is doubling as a drop-off site for a food bank. Joetta Shumaker has placed her laundry basket on a shopping cart, and weaves her way through rows of folding tables.
At one, she picks up boxes of mac and cheese; at the next, cucumbers. She pushes back her long, gray braids, as a volunteer puts a bag of oranges into the basket. She’s also making sure she stocks up on two of her favorites: peppers and cabbage.
“I love stuffed cabbage and I love stuffed peppers,” Shumaker says, laughing.
Shumaker has medical issues. She’s also helping raise her young grandson, who lives with her. The family has some money coming in, but it’s not enough to cover the healthy food they need.
“I have come ever since they started,” she says. “It really helps out a lot.”
Reaching people like Shumaker, who live in rural areas, can be a big challenge for food pantries. Food deserts in urban areas have been making news for years. But a lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables is common outside the city too. A few years ago, the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank partnered with Somerset County Mobile Food Bank to get food all the way out here—more than 60 miles from the city.