‘It helps out a lot’: Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, DoorDash work to deliver to seniors
Published October 6, 2023
JORDAN ANDERSON | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Donald King was sitting on the porch of his Sheraden home, waiting to pick up his grandkids the school bus stop, when the delivery arrived.
“You can set that right there,” he told the delivery worker, pointing to the doorstep. “Thank you.”
He receives this package, a Senior Food Box, every month, as part of a federal program that provides canned goods and other healthy pantry staples to low-income individuals over age 60. But rather than having to pick up the food himself as he juggles his household of seven people, the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank could send DoorDash worker Jason Mitsch to bring the box directly to his home.
“It helps out a lot,” Mr. King said. “And I’m getting ready to set it up for my mom and dad who are both 86, making sure they got food because everything went up, you know?”
Starting this year, the food bank began funding a Doorstep Delivery program with DoorDash to bring food to homebound seniors in need. The organization has long distributed these boxes to low-income seniors in the community, but found that mobility and transportation issues barred many from being able to pick up the food on their own. Now, a local DoorDash driver will drop the box right at their door at no cost.
The organization has expanded the delivery service from its Duquesne warehouse and into community outposts. A sixth outpost will open in November at the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches to expand the program’s reach in underserved communities.
Elizabeth Wells, Commodity Supplemental Food Program coordinator for the food bank, arranged deliveries Thursday morning out of a McKees Rocks parking lot. Once the process starts, it’s nearly nonstop work for the staff and volunteers, from providing the specific instructions and loading up the vehicles.
The idea is that they can use the funds they would have spent on these basics toward their fresh foods, such as produce.
The team received about 150 boxes Thursday morning. Some drivers who already know the routine help stack the boxes in their sedans and vans, stuffing them wherever they can — between children’s car seats, in the trunk, the front seat.
The organization delivers about 800 Senior Food Boxes each month.
“We started home delivery just as a pandemic response,” Ms. Wells said. “We started a program called Doorstep Delivery, and then realized, like, ‘Hey, this could really benefit our seniors.’ Let’s see if we can also include senior food boxes. We already knew how to do home delivery. We were good at it with our volunteers.”
But they realized the strain put on volunteers who would need to travel across Pittsburgh and its neighboring townships deliver the boxes themselves.
“We couldn’t reach all parts of the city,” she said. “We felt uneasy asking our volunteers to drive 40 minutes to deliver a box.”
In the summer 2022, help came their way when DoorDash asked the food bank to deliver the Senior Food Boxes free of charge. With the program proving to be a success, the food bank began funding the service from its own budget in February to maintain it long-term.
“We were like, OK, let’s try to find a way to pay for this because using DoorDash allows us to cover almost every part of Allegheny County,” Ms. Wells said.
From July 2022 to June 2023, the food bank delivered 54,000 boxes to low-income seniors, equating to over a million pounds of food. Whether someone has a disability, or just came home from the hospital or doesn’t have a car, Ms. Wells hears the stories of seniors who call expressing their desperate need for help accessing the food. It feels good to have a solution, she says.
“They couldn’t get to us and we couldn’t get to them,” she said. “It’s been a huge struggle. It’s heartbreaking, because the seniors call and they need assistance, and they just don’t have any other method of getting their SR box. It’s a heavy box of food, and you can’t get on a bus with that.”
Now, it’s people like Kennedy Hathaway who can provide the service. She came to McKees Rocks surprised to find out what she would be delivering that day.
“It popped up, the food bank, on DoorDash, and I was like, that’s different than usual,’” she said. “I pulled up and got to learn about all this. It just made my whole day. I’m normally a personal trainer, and I completely understand mobility issues and being unable bodied. I’m so excited to see their faces. It takes a little stress out of their lives.”
For Greg Bannon, it’s the only assistance he and his wife receive for food. He works part-time at Giant Eagle, noticing the skyrocketing prices of food himself, and takes care of his wife who is suffering from heart failure. Now, he has cereal, juice, rice, shelf-stable milk, canned protein, canned fruits and a two pound block of cheese for the month. It’s extra money each month to put toward her medication.
“A lot of it is canned goods, and that’s actually good because we can store that,” he said. “We can bring it in, and if it’s heavy, we can bring it in piecemeal. It’s really, really nice, and the people are really nice too.”
First Published October 6, 2023, 5:30am