South Hills Organization Offers Resources As Poverty Grows Outside Of Pittsburgh

Feb 5, 2016

James Guffey, executive director of South Hills Interfaith Movement announced plans to accommodate South Hills families in need.
Credit Mike Richards / 90.5 WESA

Urban poverty is a serious issue for any city, but a new report shows that Pittsburgh’s suburban neighborhoods may be even more concerning.  

A study done by Jefferson Regional Foundation last June found national suburban poverty rates were increasing nearly five times faster than urban poverty rates. In Pittsburgh's South Hills, 20 percent of families make less than $35,000 a year, and the number of children eligible to receive free or reduced lunch has increased every year since 2010.

Executive Director James Guffey with the South Hills Interfaith Movement, which provides resources for families in need, said he's hoping to increase services to accommodate the region's growing need. 

“We are going to expand and offer a new garden,” Guffey said. “Last year’s garden grew over 11,000 pounds of fresh produce that came in and benefited our clients. Beyond that, we look to expand our clothing room operations and offer greater access.”

South Hills Interfaith Movement has eight gardens and two food pantries, one at Bethel Park and one at Prospect Park, which operate twice monthly. A third is planned to open in Baldwin. Last year, the organization's pantries served more than 600 families and 1,700 individuals, organizers said.

“We have more people that are coming to our food banks, that are in systemic need, that are coming week after week, month after month, that are not just coming as a safety net, but coming as a way of life,” said the Rev. Kris McInnes, chair of South Hills Interfaith Movement board.

The organization helped about 4,000 South Hills residents through its services last year, but McInnes said there are closer to 9,000 people struggling financially in the neighborhoods it serves.

Mary Phan-Gruber, executive director of the Jefferson Regional Foundation, said that poverty comes with "a lot of other devastating effects."

"We’re talking about poor nutrition. We’re talking about housing issues. We’re talking about poor health, sometimes life-long poor health,” she said. 

The South Hills Interfaith Movement recently changed its name from South Hills Interfaith Ministries, to reflect the new changes promised for the upcoming years, Guffey said. Changes are expected to begin around March or April, he said.