Food stamps aren’t actually stamps anymore. SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits come on an electronic debit card. And while that’s much more convenient, there’s one problem—they can’t be used at farmers markets, usually the best source for fresh produce, because most farmers can’t scan them.
“Right now, 155,000 people in Allegheny County receive food stamps, which is really the first line of defense in keeping people from hunger,” says Ken Regal, of Just Harvest, a nonprofit fighting hunger in Western Pennsylvania.
The organization has solved the problem of the electronic debit card by providing electronic kiosks at local farmers markets. “People whose only food money is on an electronic debit card—we give them that choice,” says Regal, “and anyone who wants to use a credit or debit card.”
Just Harvest is just one of 101 nonprofits serving the truly needy that The Pittsburgh Foundation is aiming to help through the Critical Needs Alert online fundraiser on Tuesday.
It replaces the Allegheny County Day of Giving, which has been quite successful since its inception in 2009–give or take a technical glitch or two.
This year, however, The Pittsburgh Foundation is suspending Day of Giving and focusing instead on what they call #SafetyNetPGH Critical Needs Alert—a full day of online donating for the most vital services, for those most deeply in need.
On Tuesday, May 23, starting at 8 a.m. and continuing until midnight, The Pittsburgh Foundation is asking the public to donate to nonprofits of their choice at PittsburghGives. Donations between $25 and $1000 will be eligible for matching funds.
A “$600,000 prorated match” from the Foundation will help public donations go even further.
“What we’re hoping is that the public contributes $600,000 so we end up with $1.2 million,” says Kelly Uranker, director of the Center for Philanthropy at The Pittsburgh Foundation. “We do this so people will continue to give. People can give all day, at their convenience.”
It’s no secret that a lot of federal funding for safety net programs is at risk this year. And Pennsylvania’s budget woes seem to indicate that very little help can be expected from that direction.
“It’s in the forefront of our minds now,” says Uranker. “That’s why we focused our Critical Needs Alert on this group. There’s a lot of uncertainty with the federal and state budgets. Human services can be stopped.”
The “Critical Needs” are divided into several broad categories, including food and nutrition, childcare, housing, transportation and mental and physical health.
The nonprofits selected have been chosen for effectively addressing these problems, some in innovative ways.
“One of the organizations is called Jeremiah’s Place,” explains Uranker, which is in Larimer. “They provide emergency childcare, which is critical because people who don’t have resources or family around often find themselves needing to get to a job interview or doctor’s appointment. If they don’t have family around, this comes into play.”
Another example is Heritage Community Initiatives in Braddock.
“They saw a need and responded to it,” says Uranker. “They provide low-income childcare, but the biggest need was transportation. Braddock is a bit of a food desert—people often need one to two buses. They run a bus service to grocery shopping, or to get people to the bus stop.”
Angels’ Place “provides childcare and educational resources,” says Uranker. “If you’re a single mother, you can bring your kid for childcare and they’ll give you resources for job placement or education. It’s at several sites; the biggest is on the North Side.”
And yet another is Rainbow Kitchen, a food pantry in Homestead.
“They primarily see senior citizens and single moms with young kids,” explains Uranker. “They have a café there to provide meals. They’re a small budget operation.”
This year’s Critical Needs Alert aligns with the Foundation’s “100 Percent Pittsburgh” principle. This seeks to help the one-third of the region’s population living at or near the federal poverty line ($24,000) to better access the region’s improving economy.
“Even if you make double that and have kids—for a good deal of us, that’s one healthcare incident, one accident, or two long-term layoffs away,” says Uranker.
Want to contribute? Call on Tuesday, May 23, to support Critical Needs Alert.