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Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank spending 'almost 30% more' on food purchases

The farm bill proposes a $1 billion cut to food stamps, which would affect nearly 850,000 struggling families who already depend on food banks like the Alameda County Community Food Bank in Oakland, Calif.
The farm bill proposes a $1 billion cut to food stamps, which would affect nearly 850,000 struggling families who already depend on food banks like the Alameda County Community Food Bank in Oakland, Calif.

On today’s episode of The Confluence: Heading into the holidays, the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank is seeing increased costs for food, transportation but is still able to meet the community’s need; Amazon is looking to develop a distribution center in Churchill but it’s causing tension among residents; and the challenges new farmers face finding and purchasing land. 

Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank still meeting needs despite increased costs
(0:00-8:40)

As the holiday season approaches, some households are tightening their budgets in part due to the price of groceries increasing. As more families turn to food banks to fill the gap, these organizations are also feeling the pressure.

“Our food costs are significantly higher now than they were a year ago, so we're paying about 30 percent more in all the purchases,” says Lisa Scales, president and CEO of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

The food bank purchases a lot of “core grocery items,” according to Scales, like canned foods, peanut butter, and other shelf-stable things, and she says the costs of these items have gone up in the last year.

Scales says people are looking to the food bank right now, in particular, to help fill the gap for high-budget items, like meat and eggs.

According to Scales, one of the biggest challenges is the food supply chain, which makes high-demand items difficult to get.

Scales says they’ve seen a more than 30 percent increase in food insecurity in our region since the start of the pandemic. While the food bank distributed enough for almost 45 million meals last year, Scales says they’re still relying on community support to keep the food bank up and running.

“We always focus on the here and now,” Scales says. “When you're in need of food, you're in need of food right now. But we also look ahead.”

Amazon’s bid to build a new facility in Churchill causes tension among residents

(8:43 - 17:07)

Amazon is looking to build a new distribution center in Churchill, eyeing development at a longtime vacant facility that once housed the George Westinghouse Research and Technology Park.

But, residents of the community are torn about what could be their new industrial neighbor.

“At any point, the council may vote,” says Mila Sanina, executive director of PublicSource. “But what I have heard from my sources is that it's likely the decision is likely to come down sometime in December.”

Amazon’s proposed project claims it will include a 2.9 million-square-foot warehouse and the creation of about 1,000 to 1,500 jobs.

“It's a $300 million investment,” says Sanina. “Amazon or Hillwood, a developer, is proposing to demolish the remaining buildings that are still on the site. They need to deal with the contamination on the site.”

Churchill residents who oppose this development formed a grassroots group, Churchill Future. They say, according to Sanina, an operation such as this does not belong in a residential area and would be better suited for an industrial park.

Other residents, Sanina says, are in support of the project. An increase in tax revenue, she says, is a big draw for these residents and members of the school district. Also, the construction jobs that this facility would bring to the area.

As for a final decision, Sanina notes that there’s still a way to go.

“To be clear, it's already been, like, a very long process,” she says. “And right now, you know, the process is to consider the conditional use application and then vote on it, and then there is a land development approval process. It's also going to go through the planning commission of Churchill Borough and then with the Borough Council as well.”

Young, new farmers struggle to find land
(17:15 - 22:30)

As more farmers in Pennsylvania near retirement, the state is bracing for a shortage of agricultural workers. But for people who want to start their own farms, there’s no guarantee they’ll find land. 90.5 WESA’s An-Li Herring reports that’s a big barrier.

This report is part of a series about the challenge of cultivating a new generation of farmers in Pennsylvania.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Rebecca Reese is a production assistant for The Confluence.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at ltsutsui@wesa.fm.
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